U.S. in “Awkward Position” After Latest Hacking Claims

Today’s allegations by former NSA contractor that the U.S. government has long been hacking into and mainland Chinese computer systems are “certain to stain Washington’s image and test developing Sino-US ties,” according to a report in the state-run China Daily on Thursday:

Li Haidong, a researcher of American studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the United States is now stuck in the awkward position of having to explain itself to its citizens and the world following the exposure of Washington’s vast Internet snooping program.

“For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government,”Li said. [Source]

While the NSA story had received coverage in the Chinese press until today, Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish notes that it had taken a backseat to other stories such as Tuesday’s launch of the Shenzhou X spacecraft. But Snowden’s latest revelations have sparked sharp reaction in China, both in state-run media and on social media platforms. The South China Morning Post reported that Snowden’s latest claims “triggered scathing criticism from Sina Weibo users on Thursday:”

On Weibo, Snowden’s exclusive interview with the Post was promptly translated into Chinese by Sina News, reposted by influential opinion leaders, and commented thousands of times.

“Isn’t this a slap-in-the-face for Obama?” a microblogger wrote. “What a hypocrite US turns out to be despite its endless talks of freedom and democracy.”

“This is exactly a case of a thief yelling ‘thief’,” commented another blogger, referring to recent allegations the US made about cyberattacks from China. [Source]

The Guardian’s Warren Murray reported that a U.S. State Department spokesperson challenged the notion that such allegations, if true, would represent a double standard amid recent U.S. criticism of Chinese cyber attacks. And as China reacted, The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow questioned whether U.S. allegations of Chinese cyber espionage are similar to the NSA’s surveillance program:

A U.S. intelligence employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the two situations — China’s stealing of trade and military secrets and N.S.A. surveillance to track possible terrorist attacks — are not comparable, calling them “apples and oranges.”

“I can tell you with absolute certainty the U.S. government does not pass on technological secrets obtained through (strictly speaking, as a byproduct of) espionage to U.S. firms, both as a matter of principle and because there is no fair way to do it,” he wrote in answer to an emailed question.

“I recall some senior bureaucrat proposing this some two decades ago — and he got nowhere,” the person wrote, “none of the agencies wanted anything to do with it.”

“China, by contrast, deliberately targets foreign technology for military and commercial purposes,” he wrote, “so this is apples and oranges. But in the propaganda war, that fact won’t matter.” [Source]