I was heartened to see Terry Alberstein of Cisco Systems' response (Letters, Sept. 7, page 8) to your reporter's article ("Beware Cisco's example in China, author warns," Sept. 1, page 10). The letter demonstrates concern for Cisco's corporate reputation. Perhaps that concern will eventually turn into action -- like a phasing out of Cisco's services to the Chinese Public Security Bureau. Until then, specious attacks will not solve Cisco's dilemma.
Alberstein begins by saying that "Ethan Gutmann's claim that Cisco has somehow built a national security database in China for the Chinese Public Security Bureau is factually wrong ... we do not build database software."
False. Alberstein's assertion is contradicted by the language in Cisco's own "Policenet" brochures: "Combining voice, video, and data into one accessible resource to strengthen China's law and order."
His assertion is also contradicted by other Cisco reps. For example, Zhou Li, a systems engineer from Cisco's Shanghai branch, explained to me that Policenet means a policeman or Public Security Bureau (PSB) agent can stop a person on the street and using a hand-held device, access the citizen's danwei (employment, family and political records), trace their Web surfing history for the last 60 days and read their e-mail.
Alberstein does however make a valid semantic point. At the Aug. 31 China Trade forum in Taipei, I shorthanded the issue by saying that "Cisco built a national public security bureau database." In more detailed talks, for example, in my Jan. 7 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, I explained that Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, had called police stations throughout China. According to the police, Cisco had "built the entire structure for the national PSB database with real-time updating and mobile-ready capabilities. And as of June 2003 it's already resident in every province in China except Sichuan." I'm pleased to correct the record.
Alberstein asserts that when I visited the "Gold Shield" trade show in Shanghai in December 2002, I did not identify myself "as a journalist or author."
False. I introduced myself as a "visiting fellow at the Project for the New American Century" and that "I write about Internet issues and national security" precisely the way that I introduce myself today. Cisco's surveillance cameras appeared to be taping that conversation. Good. I stand by my account.
Alberstein says that I have "never called Cisco to seek any information or explanation on Cisco's products."
False. I did not get my interview with David Zhou at Cisco's Beijing headquarters by slipping through a window. I went through Cisco's public affairs department.
As for Zhou -- is Alberstein seriously suggesting that a Cisco sales rep at a major trade show does not accurately represent the company? The truth: Other than an unnamed Cisco rep asserting that "He has never produced one shred of evidence to support his claims," (Spectrum, May 2005), Cisco ignored the allegations contained in my book Losing the New China.
It was only after I gave permission for some of the Cisco Policenet brochures to be published in the Chinese-language edition of my book and allowed a single page to be posted on the Web that Cisco went into high-spin mode. Back in May, Cisco reps were suggesting that the Policenet brochures were the work of a rogue subcontractor.
By the end of last month, Cisco vice president Dan Scheinman was touting Cisco's openness on Policenet: "Its capabilities were advertised in full public view at the Chinese equivalent of the annual US convention of police chiefs."
According to Alberstein, "Gutmann claims that Cisco is in violation of the US Foreign Relations Authorization Act [suspending exports `to the People's Republic of China of any crime-control or detection instruments or equipment']. This is not true."
To quote Wu: "This is not up to Mr. Alberstein to decide. The US Congress has the authority to decide if any violations have been committed. We should now ask Cisco to make public the information about exactly how much business it has done with the PSB, their profits, the quantity and date of sales and business dealings, and contacts in China, as well as the specific types of software and technology that has been sold. After Cisco has truthfully revealed this information, Congress and the American people can decide whether or not Cisco has committed a violation of the law."
These are not empty words. Representative Dan Burton recently wrote to the secretary of commerce about Cisco, asking for a full explanation. Representative Tom Tancredo has requested Justice Department hearings. And investment firms such as Boston Common have launched a shareholder resolution against Cisco over human rights concerns.
How will all this shake down in post-Unocal Washington? I don't know. Will other US companies in China, sensing that Cisco is poisoning the well, quietly convince Cisco to take a step back? I don't know that either. But I do know this: I am not the issue. Policenet is. And until it's resolved in a way that respects US values and the struggling democracy movements of China, I'll keep talking about it.
Visiting fellow, Project for the New American Century
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