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Clinton, Google and the cyber cold war on China

Published Jan 31, 2010 8:54 PM

Has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared a U.S. cyber cold war on China?

On Jan. 21, Clinton gave a speech titled “Internet Freedom.” News accounts generally tie the speech to a recent report by Google that it had been subjected to cyber attacks that originated in China.

What’s left out of most reports, but was not missed by China and its media, was the rest of the speech. After China’s response to the speech, the New York Time’s characterized the talk very differently than it did in its initial report:

“Clinton’s sweeping speech with its cold war undertones — likening the information curtain to the Iron Curtain — criticized several countries by name, including China, for Internet censorship. It was the first speech in which a top administration official offered a vision for making Internet freedom an integral part of foreign policy.” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 22)

The speech is available in its entirety on the State Department’s Web site. It is filled with aggressive cold war references to the Berlin Wall and an “Information Iron Curtain” as well as other cold war rhetoric, like a speech from the U.S. State Department during the Reagan years.

Clinton’s Internet declaration follows the announcement only seven months earlier on June 23 by the Pentagon’s secretary of war, Robert Gates, that a new military cybercommand has been created for the purpose of conducting cyberwarfare.

Clinton’s speech is not explicitly a war statement, but rather a proclamation of U.S. hegemony over the Internet.

The Google confrontation may or may not have been the catalyst to giving the speech at this time. In early January, Google announced that it is reviewing its business operations in China because of cyber attacks it says originated in China. Although Google does not say it directly, the implication is that the Chinese government is behind the alleged attacks. The fact is that Google doesn’t know the source and is only able to trace the attack to servers in Taiwan, but anything beyond that is only a guess.

Google chief legal officer, David Drummond, said in a Jan. 12 blog posting, “We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail

accounts of Chinese human rights activists.” This is a revealing statement, because it also uses imperialist cold war terminology. In the twisted terminology of imperialism, the phrase “human rights activists” is used to describe anti-communist individuals, particularly those actively seeking to overthrow a government not dominated or controlled by the U.S. The phrase human rights activist is never used to describe those fighting for justice and against oppression in a U.S. ally or client state.

An interesting side note to the Google cyber attack is provided by Macworld reporter Robert McMillan, who says that the attackers used the backdoor into Google that is mandated by the U.S. security services to give them access to monitor Internet activity.

Google is unlikely to close its business in China. China has 298 million Internet users according to the China Internet Network Information Center, almost double the number in the U.S. And Google is in the business of collecting Internet clickers. Google does appear to be trying to use this event in order to negotiate a change in its terms for doing business in China. Just as Google’s operations in the U.S. require it to carry out some costly practices in order to be compliant with laws that are said to be meant to prevent illegal practices, so too Google’s operations in China must operate under similar laws.

The Clinton speech, however, raised the stakes and turned what might have been initially a “business dispute” into something more.

The Chinese newspaper Global Times’ editorial on Jan. 22 calls it “information imperialism” and says that the Internet campaign launched by the Clinton speech “is a disguised attempt to impose [U.S.] values on other cultures in the name of democracy.

“The hard fact that Clinton has failed to highlight in her speech is that the bulk of the information flowing from the U.S. and other Western countries is loaded with aggressive rhetoric against those countries that do not follow their lead,” Global Times says.

“In contrast, in the global information order, countries that are disadvantaged could not produce the massive flow of information required, and could never rival the Western countries in terms of information control and dissemination.

“Keeping that in mind, it must be realized that when it comes to information content, quantity, direction and flow, there is absolutely no equality and fairness.

“The online freedom of unrestricted access is, thus, only one-way traffic, contrary to the spirit of democracy and calculated to strengthen a monopoly,” Global Times concludes. (opinion.globaltimes.cn)

The accuracy of that statement is confirmed by the cyber attacks that originated in the U.S. targeting the government of Iran. Clinton did not mention this censorship of Iran, an attack that shut down for a short time all information coming from the Iranian government. This attack last year is well known and was widely publicized. Clinton, by leaving out any mention of this cyber attack, this censorship of Iran, was by implication giving it official sanction, maybe even implying that this is what’s in store for any countries that oppose U.S. dictates.

As for Internet freedom and censorship, no mention was made of the FBI’s arrest of G-20 protesters last September in Pittsburgh for using Twitter to communicate during their demonstration. The absence of any mention by Clinton of this widely reported attempt to intimidate protesters was confirmation that the speech was about U.S. monopoly control of the Internet, not about any alleged freedoms.

China didn’t miss the message. The official English-language China Daily had a front page report headlined: “New shot in the arm for U.S. hegemony.”

The report details how the U.S. completely dominates and controls the Internet and how it is U.S. military policy to maintain that domination.

“The U.S. Defense Strategy Review in March 2005 stated that Internet space should have the same priority as continental, marine, aerial and outer space jurisdictions for the U.S. to maintain a decisive superiority. A statement from Washington on June 30, 2005, made it clear that the U.S. government would maintain its control ... indefinitely,” China Daily reports.

The article has a great deal of information. For example, it quotes a former U.S. intelligence agent who says that the CIA’s primary means for gathering information on China is through the Internet. And the move by China last June to require a filter named Green Dam, which blocks spying activity, is what is in dispute with Google. Google is seeking to take off the Green Dam filter. Read the full report at www.chinadaily.com.cn, including the details on cyber war attacks by Pentagon contractors Northrop Grumman Corp and General Dynamics.