Chinese leaders ordered Google hack, U.S. cable quotes source as saying

WikiLeaks' American domain name system provider withdrew service to the name after the secret-spilling website once again became the target of hacker attacks.
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 9:59 PM

A brazen series of computer intrusions into Google networks in China announced by the search engine company earlier this year were directed by the highest levels of the Chinese government, a "well-placed" Chinese source told U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing in January.

The revelation was contained in a classified State Department cable, part of a cache of cables leaked to the site WikiLeaks and disclosed Saturday.

"A well-placed contact claims that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems," the cable said. "According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level."

The penetrations resulted in the theft of "significant" intellectual property, Google officials said. The company surprised many by publicly reporting the hacking, and further by saying its investigation found that the attacks originated in China. But the company stopped short of saying the attacks were directed by the government.

U.S. officials have not verified the report. "There is a single-source report that the attack was directed by the Chinese government," said a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "We have never been able to corroborate that."

Senior State Department officials raised concerns about the attack on multiple occasions and asked China to investigate, spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

China has said it would look into the allegations.

Many experts said then and now that an attack of this scale and sophistication was most likely directed by the Chinese government. The hacking affected more than 30 other large U.S. corporations in addition to Google.

"This was a big collection program - it was more than Google, so it was probably authorized by the standing committee," said James A. Lewis, a senior fellow and cyberpolicy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It was the equivalent of a presidential finding for covert action. The Chinese have been good at mixing economic and political espionage."

The contents of the January cable and others, if confirmed, would begin to pull back the curtain on the operation.

According to the January cable, a source told an embassy political officer that "the closely held Chinese government operations against Google had been coordinated out of the State Council Information Office," which reports directly to the Politburo Standing Committee, the nine most powerful members of the government.

The New York Times, which received access to the unredacted cables, reported Saturday that according to a May 18, 2009, cable, Li Changchun, a member of the standing committee, was disturbed to learn that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google's international site. When he Googled himself, he found "results critical of him," according to the cable.

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