Wall Street Journal – January 13, 2011
Wikileaks may have targeted the US with its ongoing releases of sensitive State Department documents, but China is its real “technological enemy,” according to founder Julian Assange.
In an interview with the left-leaning British weekly magazine the New Statesman, Assange called China the “worst offender” for its censorship of information online.
“China has aggressive and sophisticated technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China,” Assange told the magazine. “We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through.”
The controversial head of Wikileaks is being held in the UK and is awaiting a verdict in extradition hearings over whether he will be turned over to Swedish authorities where he is wanted for questioning over accusations of rape and sexual assault.
The Australian-born hacker has said he is worried that the US may retaliate against him for publishing a series of State Department documents on the Wikileaks site. Since late November 2010 the organization has released over 2,000 cables, including several detailing the State Department’s view of China and its leaders.
China’s so-called “Great Firewall” system for filtering online content blocked access to Wikileaks almost as soon as the cables were released. A government official in Beijing cited a desire to protect US-China relations as the reason why access to the Web site was blocked.
Another reason could be the frank concerns expressed in the cables over the Chinese government’s possible use of quasi-independent hackers in corporate and political espionage.
One June 2009 cable from the State Department highlights its concerns over connections between China’s top information technology security providers and the central government. First reported by The Guardian, the cable describes links between TOPSEC Network Security Technology Co. Ltd., a security technology developer, and the People’s Liberation Army and China’s community of hackers.
According to the cable, TOPSEC hired a Chinese hacker named Lin Yong (who goes by the alias Lion and runs the Honker Union of China ) as a senior security service engineer to manage and train employees in security technology while Venustech, another IT security company, has links with another organization of hackers called XFocus.
It’s not surprising that Assange would take aim at the Chinese government. The Wikileaks founder seemed to have China in mind in a series of essays from 2006 in which he assails authoritarian governments as large-scale conspiracies that depend for their existence on secret communication and control of information. “Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance,” he writes. “Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers.”
The aim for those who cherish openness and justice, Assange continues, should be to leverage leaks to reduce “conspiratorial power” to “zero.”
For the Chinese government, which considers “dissemination of state secrets” a grave crime, the feeling of enmity is likely mutual.