Week In News: Chinese Internet Hacking
AUDIE CORNISH, host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Chairman, Senate Homeland Security Committee; Independent, Connecticut): What WikiLeaks has done amounts to espionage in a most serious form. It's probably the single greatest act of espionage against the United States in our history.
CORNISH: Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, on the whistleblower site Wikileaks. And the fallout continues from the company's release of the 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.
James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now as he does most Saturdays to talk about it. Hi there, Jim.
Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Greetings, Audie. Nice to talk to you.
CORNISH: So the latest reporting from the New York Times today focuses on cables about China - China and Google, China and hacking operations - and you've got a lot of experience on both sides of this. I know you've lived in China and you've actually reported on Google. So what is the most surprising thing to you to come out of the cables today?
Mr. FALLOWS: You know, let's set aside the largest arguments about the rights and wrongs of WikiLeaks in general. I think this latest trove of information about China is truly fascinating.
For example, it seems that the latest Chinese government campaign against Google over the last year and a half or so was touched off when the propaganda chief of China, a man named Li Changchun was shocked to find that when he used the Google, he found some critical result about himself. And then many dominos fell after that.
And so, this is interesting among other things for giving an idea of the kind of leadership, you know, that's in charge of the propaganda efforts for all of China.
CORNISH: And also that you should never Google yourself.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CORNISH: I think that rule applies for us.
Mr. FALLOWS: Yeah. This is a rule that transcends us.
CORNISH: And for Li Changchun, sounds like. Li Changchun, tell me more about him.
Mr. FALLOWS: He's a significant person. Forbes actually had a ranking a year or so ago, putting him among the top 20 most powerful people in the entire world. He's in his late 60s. He was originally a kind of boy wonder mayor of a northeastern provincial town in China. And he rose within the ranks.
And he heads all of the propaganda efforts that shape how a billion-plus people see the world, what they know about Tibet, what they know about U.S. foreign policy, what they know about tensions within China. And he was the one who -again, according to these cables, thought, there needs to be a way to keep so much information from Google in particular because it's popular within China, because it makes the information available in convenient and attractive forms. Some way has to be found to stop them.
CORNISH: So, control. I mean, trying to control the Web in a way that I think in the States we don't view it.
Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. And this is a question that's been discussed for years, about whether the Internet is inevitably a tool for opening up closed political systems like China's or whether they can be actually be turned into a tool of domestic control.
And the cables also show that many of the advocates of control said, yes, it is going to be possible for us to steer and block these technologies to make sure that our people see and hear what we want them to see and not otherwise.
This applied even to Google Earth, where there were these - the cables show some very stern remonstrances from the Chinese government to the U.S. government saying Google Earth is showing us too many images that are too high-detailed, terrorists will work on these things. The U.S. government replied, look, you know, we don't have any control of Google. They're a private a company. But this was an issue that the Chinese government has been pushing for the last year or two.
CORNISH: I'm also curious about another aspect of the cables today, these allegations about links between China and hackers. Do these new WikiLeaks cables give us a better sense of whether that's an organized effort or something that's just tolerated by the Chinese government?
Mr. FALLOWS: They certainly provide additional information, although nothing is conclusive proof. And the background here is there's a long, long debate between people who think, on the one hand, that a lot of the hacking activity coming out of China is teenagers and people with time on their hands. The other argument is, in fact, no, this is a concentrated and deliberate tool of state power used by the military, directed by the central government.
And while these cables don't show what all the activity arises from, they certainly suggest that in some cases, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, the Chinese government was deliberately trying to coordinate activities against the U.S. interest and U.S. companies.
CORNISH: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.
Jim, thanks again.
Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Audie.
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