The hacking of Google that forced the search engine to withdraw from mainland China was orchestrated by a senior member of the communist politburo, according to classified information sent by US diplomats to Hillary Clinton’s state department in Washington.
The leading politician became hostile to Google after he searched his own name and found articles criticising him personally, leaked cables from the US embassy in Beijing say.
That single act prompted a politically inspired assault on Google, forcing it to “walk away from a potential market of 400 million internet users” in January this year, amid a highly publicised row about Internet censorship.
The explosive allegation that the attack on Google came from near the top of the Communist party has never been made public until now. The politician allegedly collaborated with a second member of the politburo in an attempt to force Google to drop a link from its Chinese-language search engine to its uncensored google.com version.
A cable from the Beijing embassy marked as secret records that attempts to break into the accounts of dissidents who used Google’s Gmail system had been co-ordinated “with the oversight of” the two politburo members.
The cyber assault was described to the Americans by a high-level Chinese source as “100% political in nature” and having “nothing to do with removing Google... as a competitor to Chinese search engines”.
Last December Google said that it was hit by a “highly sophisticated and targetted attack on our corporate infrastructure”. Part of it was aimed at the Gmail accounts of “Chinese human rights activists” — although in a statement released in January, Google said that there was no evidence the hackers were successful. Shortly after the attack, Google chose to abandon mainland China. It relocated to Hong Kong, where it was able to run an uncensored version of its website in English and Chinese, ending an awkward attempt to reconcile partial adherence to Chinese requirements with western democratic values.
While Google and the US suspected leading Chinese politicians were behind the hacking, neither the company nor the US government said so at the time. Diplomats even discussed whether China’s most powerful man, Hu Jintao, the president, or his prime minister, Wen Jiabao, were “aware of these actions”. The secret note sent back to Washington concedes that “it is unclear” whether advance knowledge of the attack went right to the top.
Google, whose motto is Don’t Be Evil, entered China in 2006. In an attempt to gain market share from local rival Baidu, it launched Google.cn, in which results relating to Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre were among those filtered out.
Guardian News Service