Information has been long recognized by the Chinese as the most potent weapon in business and war. The ability to gather, analyze and utilize confidential information is an integral part of China’s political and economic existence. Whether it be foreign or domestic, all information is considered “intelligence,” both in its semantic and operational sense; as such, all information can therefore be considered of a security concern.
In the 1970s the Chinese began invigorating their external military intelligence program aimed at penetrating U.S. and European commercial and intellectual information centers. The devices they used were as rudimentary as they were traditional. Social contacts growing out of formal meetings were extended to lavish dinners and encouragement of personal friendships; all of which led to the creation of “a relationship of reciprocal favors.” The Chinese are expert in this form of exploitation of social interaction. It’s been a staple of their contact with “the long noses” since the days of Marco Polo.
It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t until 2007 that British business executives were warned in a restricted memorandum by MI5 that their enterprises were high value intelligence targets for the Chinese security services. Perhaps it was the incident involving one of the assistants to the newly installed British PM Gordon Brown that pushed the UK’s Security Service (MI5) into action. The aide was seduced by a Chinese female agent in Shanghai who subsequently managed to steal his “Blackberry” and all the information it contained.
At least the aide had the courage to report a type of incident that undoubtedly had happened many times in previous years. It is interesting to note that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intelligence officers along with their civilian counterparts from the Ministry of Public Security have been cited by both the UK and US security agencies as being vigorous practitioners of the arts of sexual entrapment as a means of gaining cooperation on divulging commercial and industrial secrets from businessmen traveling abroad both in China and elsewhere.
While all this appears rather old fashioned and Hollywood-esque, it actually has been an effective method for the Chinese to gain clandestine access to important computer networks. By using these stolen external electronic paths, the Chinese technicians have shown they can manipulate non-direct methods to hack into defense, foreign affairs, and elected officials computerized records.
Great attention was paid to Google’s announcement that they had “…detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.” That the Chinese decided to electronically invade this multinational company’s infrastructure is best explained simply “because they could do it.” Whether the official Chinese hackers were seeking information on human rights activists or as a convenient pathway to more commercially sensitive and/or defense-related information is actually less important than the fact of China’s interest in and ability to penetrate some of the most sophisticated computer networks civilian and military.
The preoccupation in Chinese leadership circles with private and sensitive information has grown exponentially since long before the advent of Mao’s communism through to the 21st century’s computer revolution. Their structure of information-gathering is massive and far ranging: It includes the little old ladies who are paid to sit daily in alleyways cataloguing the comings and goings of anything and anyone of a “suspicious note.” This traditional information-gathering base expands eventually to the gargantuan organization of domestic and foreign-targeted electronic intercepts of all technical mechanisms. Chinese officialdom uses every device known in modern and ancient times to track everything said, done and even contemplated of significance to the People’s Republic of China.
Underlying this technical wizardry and human preoccupation is an abiding socio-political paranoia that pervades the vast community of government life that exists in a country of 1.3 billion people. The belief is that the non-Chinese world is jealous and covetous of all that China has accomplished physically and intellectually. The aim of this outside world is deemed ultimately to destabilize and then control the PRC.
The ten years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre combined to scar the experience of all the ranking leadership of China today. The political powers in Beijing and the provinces are haunted by fear of unseen dangers internal and external. With that mindset security in any sense can come only from total knowledge and control of all forces working to aid what the leaders perceive as anti-Chinese interests, economic, political, social, scientific, and military.
As a result, real and imagined foes are seen to exist at all times and everywhere. These potential adversaries must be monitored — and all who are not ethnically Chinese (Han) fall into that category. This includes all Chinese minorities. At the same time ethnic purity does not protect the individual Chinese citizen from surveillance of his actions or speech. Sun Tzu in his classic guide, The Art of War, quite clearly and extensively comments on “the dangers from without and within.” It is a lesson still followed today throughout Chinese official life.