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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.

According to the January cable, Li himself ordered up or helped coordinate the attack, the paper reported.

But the Times said that another person cited in the cable, who apparently is the source of the information on Li, acknowledged that Li "personally led a campaign against Google operations in China," but to his knowledge "had no role in the hacking attack."

According to the Times, the January cable states that the Google intrusions were coordinated with the oversight of Li and another Politburo member, Zhou Yongkang, China's top security official. Both Li's and Zhou's names were redacted from the memos posted by the two newspapers.

The January cable also cites a source as saying that the operations "against Google 'were one hundred percent' political in nature.' " Some analysts at the time speculated that the attacks were motivated by a desire to undermine Google in favor of Baidu, the Chinese search engine that is far less powerful but has far more market share in China.

Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker declined to comment. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request to comment.

After discovering the Chinese hacking, Google threatened to pull out of China unless officials agreed to let it run an uncensored search engine in the country.

In April, after failing to reach an agreement with authorities on the censorship issue, Google redirected its search traffic to servers in Hong Kong. The company still has marketing, advertising and engineering operations in Beijing and Shanghai.

China has been probing and breaking into U.S. computer systems for the better part of a decade. One of the earliest intrusions reported was code-named Titan Rain - attacks by government-sponsored hackers, disclosed in 2005, that over a number of years stole massive amounts of data from military and other systems.

A November 2008 cable posted by WikiLeaks revealed that since late 2002, government organizations have been targeted by hackers in China using e-mail messages intended to fool recipients into downloading malicious software in an operation dubbed Byzantine Candor. That, in turn, is a part of a larger operation called Byzantine Hades, the cable stated.

Targets include the U.S. Army and the Department of Energy, as well as private-sector networks. The goal, the cable said, is to "exfiltrate massive amounts of sensitive data from the networks."

In November 2008, Shanghai-based hackers linked to the Chinese military penetrated several computer systems of a commercial Internet service provider inside the United States. According to investigators, the hackers used the compromised systems to facilitate incursions into U.S. and foreign systems, including at least one U.S. government agency.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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