Sources told US diplomats that hacking attacks against Google were ordered by China’s top ruling body and a senior leader demanded action after finding search results critical of him, leaked US government cables show.
One memo sent by the US embassy in Beijing to Washington said a “well-placed contact’’ told diplomats the Chinese government coordinated the attacks late last year on Google Inc under the direction of the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of Chinese Communist Party power.
The details of the memos, known in diplomatic parlance as cables, could not be verified. Chinese government departments either refused to comment or could not be reached. If true, the cables show the political pressures that were facing Google when it decided to close its China-based search engine in March.
The cable about the hacking attacks against Google, which was classified as secret by US Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Goldberg, was released by WikiLeaks to the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers.
The New York Times said the cable, dated early this year, quoted the contact as saying that propaganda chief Li Changchun (李長春), the fifth-ranked official in the country, and top security official Zhou Yongkang (周永康) oversaw the hacking of Google. Both men are members of the Politburo.
It said that it is unclear if Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) were aware of these reported actions before Google went public about the attacks in January.
The Times, however, said doubts about the allegation have arisen after the newspaper interviewed the person cited in the cable, who denied knowing who directed the hacking attacks on Google. The Times did not identify the person it interviewed.
Another source said in that cable he believed an official on the top political body was “working actively with Chinese Internet search engine Baidu (百度) against Google’s interests in China.”
Google’s relations with Beijing have been tense since the US-based search giant said in January it no longer wanted to cooperate with Chinese Web filtering following computer hacking attacks on Google’s computer code and efforts to break into the e-mail accounts of human rights activists. Google closed its China-based search engine on March 22 and began routing users to its unfiltered Hong Kong site.
Google’s spokeswoman in Tokyo, Jessica Powell, said the company had no comment on the cables released by WikiLeaks, and on the hacking attacks, referred to a January statement that said it had evidence that the attack came from China. Google did not release any details then.
A man who answered the phone at the spokesperson’s office of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said no one was around to comment yesterday. Calls to the Chinese State Council Information Office and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rang unanswered.
A separate cable released by WikiLeaks showed a Politburo member demanded action against Google after looking for his own name on the search engine and finding criticism of him.
The cable from May 18 last year cable did not identify the leader, but the New York Times reported it was Li.
The cable classified as confidential cited a source as saying the Chinese official had realized that Google’s worldwide site is uncensored, capable of Chinese language searches and search results, and that there is a link from the home page of its China site, google.cn, to google.com.