World / US and Canada

America's Global Surveillance Record

(Internet Media Research Center) Updated: 2014-05-26 15:17

II. America sets China as the main target of its secret surveillance

Evidence provided by Snowden shows that China is one of the major targets of America's illegal spying operations. The United States has eavesdropped on Chinese state leaders, scientific institutes, universities and enterprises.

Documents revealed by Snowden to Der Spiegel prove that the United States has conducted mass cyber-attacks on China, targeting Chinese state leaders and the giant high-tech company Huawei. Attacks were also aimed at the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Chinese banks and telecommunication companies. According to Der Spiegel, the spying operations also covered several former Chinese state leaders, and former officials of government departments and banks.

Chinese government offices are a particular target of US spy operations. A former White House foreign policy aide revealed that the United States planted optical fiber bugs in the walls of the offices of the Chinese Embassy in Australia when it was built in 1990. The bugs were not deactivated until the story was broken by the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to a report in Foreign Policy magazine, the United States has stolen a huge amounts of important intelligence information from China and other countries via cyber-attacks carried out by the NSA's Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO), which was established in 1997.

A report in "Der Spiegel” cited a leaked map dating from 2010 that shows US global spy operations have penetrated 90 countries, among which China is the chief target in East Asia. Chinese cities, including, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Taipei, are on the priority target list of the NSA. The agency hacked hundreds of computers and Internet servers on the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong in 2009. Targets in Hong Kong included universities, government officials, business people and students.

According to an interview with Snowden in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the NSA uses numerous methods to hack Chinese telecommunication companies in order to steal the text messages of their users.

Snowden also told the SCMP that the NSA had hacked the servers of Tsinghua University, China's most prestigious university. At least 63 computers and servers were attacked in January, 2013. The SCMP report noted that the attack on Tsinghua University, home to one of six main network backbones - the China Education and Research Network - means that data from millions of Chinese citizens may have been stolen.

The SCMP, quoting Snowden, made it clear that the US government has been hacking extensively into China's major telecommunication companies and mobile phone operators to steal millions of private text messages.

According to Reuters, the NSA reached a US$10-million deal with RSA, an encryption technology and security service provider, to insert a deliberate flaw or "backdoor” in its cryptography system to make it easier for the NSA to launch mass spying programs. Chinese clients of RSA include the three major Chinese telecommunication operators - China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, as well as the Bank of China, The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, telecommunications provider Huawei, and home appliances group Haier Electronics.

Based on confidential documents provided by Snowden, the Washington Post reported that, in the year to May, 2012, the NSA had collected, stored, obtained or distributed legally protected communications 2,776 times without authorization. These illegal operations were especially frequent during the first quarter of 2012. The report suggested that this was probably because of NSA eavesdropping on Chinese citizens who visited the US during Chinese Spring Festival at the beginning of the year.

The United States even retrieves information from computer games. Both the Guardian and the New York Times published a file from investigative news organization Propublica that revealed how intelligence agents from Britain and the United States used games such as, "World of Warcraft” and "Second Life” to spy on the players. It is well known that the majority of players of these two online games are Chinese.

The US spying operations penetrate every corner of China. Snowden also revealed a series of confidential documents which show that QQ, the chat software of Internet giant Tencent, and Fetion, the instant messaging service of China Mobile, were targeted by the NSA.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, when the United States was putting pressure on China over the issue of cyber-attacks, it failed to mention its own mass cyber espionage on Chinese Internet. US officials had always declined to comment on the issue when questioned by journalists after China had accused America of secret snooping operations.

The websites of Der Spiegel and the New York Times have also reported how the NSA has made huge efforts to spy on Huawei Technologies, the second largest telecom solutions provider in the world. It began activities against Huawei in 2009, because it is the biggest competitor to US telecoms giant Cisco. A specially designated NSA team penetrated Huawei's network and copied the details of 1,400 of its customers as well as training manuals for the company's engineers.

According to the report, the NSA also stole the company's email files as well as the source code of some products. The NSA penetrated into Huawei's headquarter in Shenzhen where the staff emails are handled. American spying operations have gathered a huge number of internal emails between staff members, including senior executives, since January, 2009.

According to US intelligence agencies, gaining an understanding of how the company operates will pay off in the future. So far, according to their narrative, cyber space has been effectively controlled by the West, but Chinese companies are challenging Western dominance. If the US monopoly of technological standards is broken, China will gradually take control of the Internet.

A report on the website of the New York Times on March 22 this year said that US officials have always considered Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as a security threat, and blocked business deals in the United States for fear that Huawei might create "backdoors” in its equipment to allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets. But leaked classified documents reveal that it is the NSA that is creating its own "backdoors” into Huawei's networks.

According to the New York Times report, the intelligence operation against China by the NSA is not limited to Huawei. Documents leaked by Snowden in April 2013 revealed that the NSA infiltrated two major Chinese mobile network companies in order to track strategically important Chinese military units.

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