A Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing that China's Politburo "directed" last December's hack on Google's internal systems, according to the confidential US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and various news organizations on Sunday.
As reported by The New York Times, an unnamed source told the American Embassy that the Google hack was "part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government." The US State Department cables showed that since 2002, the campaign had also hacked machines belonging to the American government, its Western Allies, the Dalai Lama, and various American businesses.
In January, Google told the world that attacks originating from China had lifted unspecified intellectual property from the company. Microsoft later said that the attack had exploited a hole in its Internet Explorer 6 browser — which was soon patched — and according to security researchers, at least 33 other companies were targeted by similar attacks.
Google and US State Department implied that the Chinese government was involved, but the Chinese government denied any role in the attacks.
The New York Times later reported that the attacks had been traced to a pair of Chinese schools and that one of the schools had close ties to the Chinese military. But the schools denied involvement — and links to the military.
According to Google, "a primary goal" of the the attacks on its internal systems was to access the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. In a blog post, the company said that attacks on two Gmail accounts were largely unsuccessful, but that an investigation showed that accounts belonging to dozens of activists in the US, China, and Europe "have been routinely accessed by third parties."
After obtaining 250,000 confidential US State Department cables, WikiLeaks released a few hundred to a handful of news organizations, which were under embargo until Sunday. After the embargo lifted, WikiLeaks published this first installment of cables to its own site. The New York Times said it did not obtain the cables from WikiLeaks, but it seemed to honor the same embargo.
WikiLeaks has promised to release the cables "in stages" over the next few months. The documents expose daily communication between the State Department and about 270 embassies and consulates. The White House condemned the release of the cables, calling them "stolen and classified documents."
"These cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," read a statement from The White House. "To be clear — such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."
The first collection of cables reveals a wide range of confidential State Department dealings, including a 2009 directive from Secretary of State that ordered the surveillance of United Nations leaders. The directive orders the collection of "current technical specifications, physical layout, and planned upgrades to telecommunications infrastructure and information systems, networks, and technologies." This includes "details on commercial and private VIP networks used for official communications," such as "upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys, and types of VPN versions used." ®
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