Wikileak Docs: Chinese Gov't Coordinated Google Attack

Dennis Faas's picture

Recently leaked US State department documents make the strongest claims yet that the Chinese government was behind attacks on Google systems late last year. The claims appear in a collection of 250,000 cables: confidential messages between the State department and the various United States consulates and embassies around the world.

The collection appears on the controversial site, which publishes a wide variety of leaked material relating to many countries and from many sources, but has hit the headlines with large-scale leaks relating to military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Google's Gmail Security Breached

One cable relates to an incident last December when Google servers in China came under attack. It emerged that hackers had been able to access the inboxes of Gmail account holders and see message headers and the names of senders or recipients. However, it appeared the hackers weren't able to access or manipulate the messages themselves.

At the time, there was widespread suspicion the attacks had been aimed at human rights campaigners and other critics of the Chinese government. However, neither Google nor the US government outright accused the Chinese government of being behind the attacks.

That said, the incident did certainly appear to contribute to Google tweaking its policies on search results in the country: rather than following Chinese orders to censor results, it routes Chinese searches via Hong Kong and produces unfiltered results. In practice, the results are still filtered by Chinese systems before getting to local users, but Google is no longer complicit in the censorship.

Embargo Period Ends

The Wikileaks documents are being released gradually simply because there are so many files and so much interest in them. The full batch was previously given to several major newspapers under embargo so that highlights could be published as soon as the files went online.

According to the New York Times, "China's Politburo directed the intrusion into Google's computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government." (Source:

The leaks -- which include thousands of documents relating to the US-China relationship -- could spell double trouble for China. As well as dealing with the diplomatic fall out, China also faces the risk that dissidents may be further inspired to try to get hold of and publish its own confidential documents. (Source:

Rate this article: 
No votes yet