The press has been making a lot of noise about Google’s recent claim that Chinese hackers conducted an extensive and sophisticated cyber attack against Chinese human rights activists using Gmail, Google’s web-based email service. Google is threatening to end its operations in China altogether, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on China to lift all restrictions on its population’s internet usage.
China has responded robustly. The Global Times pointed out: “The US campaign for uncensored and free flow of information on an unrestricted internet is a disguised attempt to impose its values on other cultures in the name of democracy … China’s real stake in the ‘free flow of information’ is evident in its refusal to be victimised by information imperialism.”
The article below first appeared in China Daily on 22 January 2010, and helps to explain some of the ins and outs of ‘information imperialism’ – how the US seeks to use modern network technology to support its economic and political domination. We reproduce it here with thanks.
The internet originated on American soil. In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US defence department established the world’s first testing packet-switched network (PSN) to connect four universities on US soil.
The world saw a remarkable expansion of the scale and number of internet users from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. In September 1989, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was founded with a grant from the US Department of Commence to administer the internet terminal server.
Over the past 40 years, the US has been dominating the world internet as the core technique holder, with an inherent advantage of being the cradle of the Internet.
There are 13 terminal servers in the world to keep the internet running, with a master server and nine of the 12 secondary servers stationed in the US. In terms of technique, the network of an entire country will disappear from the world internet if its domain name registry is blocked or deleted from the terminal server.
This kind of conduct cannot be legally challenged through the law of any country; only by ICANN’s own rules. In April 2004, Libya disappeared from the internet for three days after the collapse of the domain name registry of the country – .ly – caused by a domain administration dispute.
Concerns about the US monopoly of the domain name server (DNS) system grew among other nations as much as their reliance on the internet for issues ranging from politics and the economy to defence and the general society.
Years ago, there was a proposal that the internet be administered by the United Nations or under international cooperation. The European Union insisted that the World Wide Web is an international resource that should be jointly managed by all nations. Some developing countries pointed out that, at the early stage of internet development, developed countries had seized large numbers of domain names, leaving a limited few for them, and demanded a share with the US of internet administration. American officials opposed the suggestion.
The US defence strategy review in March 2005 stated that internet space should have the same priority as continental, marine, aerial and outer space jurisdictions for the US to maintain a decisive superiority. A statement from Washington on 30 June 2005 made it clear that the US government would maintain its control over the DNS indefinitely; stating that a transfer of its management to UN or international cooperative models would impede the free flow of information, lead to easy manipulation of the internet and make global supervision more difficult.
In an attempt to thwart the world summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in November 2005, then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote to the then European Union president and British foreign minister that her government in Washington backed internet administration and coordination by ICANN (an alleged NGO, which is actually a quasi-government organisation within the US department of commerce).
Rice said management by private corporations would guarantee the safety and stability of the internet, while the alternative choice of an inter-government mechanism would be an obstacle to internet development. At the same time, the US Congress passed a bill by a vote of 423 to zero urging a manifesto by the White House that American control over internet is inviolable.
US Representative John Taylor Doolittle, a Republican from California, said the United States invented the internet, and described it as a gift to the world based on American taxpayers’ money. He said he opposed any move to transfer the country’s control to the UN.
The control of the internet plays a strategic role for US. Using the internet, the US can intercept information via the net, export US values and opinions, support a ‘color revolution’, feed the opposition powers and rebels against anti-US governments, interfere with other countries’ internal affairs and make proactive attacks on enemy’s communication and directing networks.
James-Adams, a famous military forecaster, wrote in his book, The Next World War, these words: “The computer is the weapon for the future war and there is no virtual front line, as the traditional battle and the byte will take the bullet’s role to grab control of the air.”
US companies intend to make preparations for future global information control and sanctions during the progress of research and manufacture under the direction of the US government. As early as 2002, a CIA internet spying plot was disclosed by the British media, saying the CIA sought to collect information by hacking into the computers of giant companies, banks and governmental organs and organisations across the world.
Under the cover of a high-tech civil company, the CIA cooperated with a software development company in Silicon Valley to design software ‘bugs’ that collected information via the internet. The spying software binding with normal software would install automatically once a netizen [internet user] started to use the normal software.
The New York Times reported in December 2005 that the CIA had cooperated with the country’s telecom enterprises to invent a computer program capable of intercepting internet communications.
CBS TV claimed on 11 January 2006 that the CIA had established a special institution for the interception of information from other countries by using high-tech means. The institution’s person in charge said in an interview with CBS that the CIA had obtained a great amount of information of great importance.
Although Iran had been trying to hide its nuclear research and development work, the CIA found ways to get first-hand information and photos of its nuclear weapons work. The adoption of the interception technology helped the CIA get into the door of Iran’s secret nuclear experiment after the execution of a CIA informant. He added that the CIA had never stopped its supervisory control over Iran since the wide adoption of the internet, and had built three tape libraries to store the information collected.
In the New York Times’ words, social networking sites, as a new internet favorite in the 21st century, have played a big role in protests in Georgia, Egypt and Iceland. The unsuccessful ‘Color Revolution’ in Moldova in April 2009 was also called the ‘Twitter Revolution’ because of the involvement of Twitter, a popular US-based internet social networking site. There are people at the US-based Soros Open Society institute who are in charge of boosting the so-called ‘Democratic movement’ in a ‘closed society’.
Iran had been in a turbulent situation after its election in June 2009, as the opposition party was spreading false messages, venting their discontent and holding protests on social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube. The US government thought it such an effective tool to use against Iran that it even asked Twitter to postpone its regular maintenance date on 15 June, saying, “Iran is in a defining moment, and Twitter is playing such a vital part in it, can you let it just work as usual?”
The founder of Twitter felt excited to see that its site had become the “political tool” of the US government.
US defence secretary Robert Gates said Twitter and other social networking sites are “strategic assets of great importance” because “these new technologies make it harder for the ‘dictator regimes’ to control information”. A former intelligence official said the channelling of US ideology via the internet is much easier than sending spies to target countries or training local agents in target countries who identify with US ideology.
The move the US government made in June 2009 – when it dissented over the Chinese government’s order to install the filtering software Green Dam and pressured China’s government for interfering in the freedom on the net and the freedom of information flow – is probably related to its intention to infiltrate China.
According to a Hong Kong media agency, the CIA invests tens of millions of US dollars every year to aid “Chinese net traitors” to infiltrate Chinese net users with US ideology. They haunt major Chinese forums and portals. A website called Wazhe Online (Chinese Pinyin) is a secret mission with the cooperation of US government institutions and overseas “Tibetan splittist organisations” with the tasks of agitating, deluding, infiltrating and instigating Chinese net users, making up rumours to initiate riots and collecting information via the internet.
A Tibetan youth who once worked with one organisation said it is an online spy agency which is supported by the US financially, controlled by the Americans and serves the Americans. A commentary on Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao said those who publish stories sensitive to China’s policies on the net have complex backgrounds and are hired by US and Japanese spy agencies.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has also attached importance to the internet since taking office. She claimed that it’s necessary to deal with the countries that roll back US media with the force of the internet, especially making use of Facebook, YouTube, Flicker and Twitter to send voices from the US.
Former US president George W Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 16 (NSPD-16) to set up the first hacker force in American history, as well as of world history, in 2002. With its technological advantages, the US Department of Defense (DoD) advanced the idea of cyber warfare in 2004.
In the summer of the same year, Bush signed a secret document which agreed to allow the DoD to launch a ‘hacker-style’ devastation, attacking enemies’ computers. At the beginning of 2008, Bush again allowed US forces to launch cyber attacks initially with regard to giving the DoD a greater counter-power on the network. He demanded that the US should have the capability of accessing any open or closed long-distance computer network, and then maintain “complete concealment” and “quietly steal information” to destroy enemies’ computer systems, destroy their command system, and even control their business and government affairs networks.
The Air Force Cyber Command was founded on 18 Sept 2008, with the mission of defending their own network security and also attacking others.
US president Barack Obama repeatedly stressed the importance of the internet during his campaign. He asked the relevant departments to assess the security of the American network, and to prepare for the implementation of information hegemony to continue the work of controlling the new generation of internet root servers.
The assessment report released by the US government on 29 May 2009 said that cyberspace threats have become one of the most serious economic and military threats facing the United States. The report emphasised that the US must show the world they were seriously responding to the challenge.
Against this background, Microsoft announced the closure of MSN services for Cuba, Iran, Syria, Sudan and the DPRK. But world opinion considers this as information sanction instead of meeting a challenge.
A report from the New York Times on 31 May 2009, claims that almost all large military enterprises – including Northrop Grumman Corp, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Co – have network contracts with the intelligence agencies of the US military. The first two enterprises engage in ‘offensive cyber war’, which includes stealing other countries’ sensitive information or paralysing their networks by developing software tools after finding vulnerabilities in their computer systems.
The US department of defence announced a plan to establish the ‘United States Cyber Command’ on 23 June 2009, in order to gain advantage in the field. Pentagon spokesman Whitman said the new command is going to “focus on protection”.
Only they themselves believe such a word. It is clear that the aim of founding the new command is to integrate the high-tech military units in different parts of the country and to strengthen defence. More importantly, it aims to improve the offensive ability and launch a pre-emptive cyber attack against ‘enemy countries’ if necessary.
For a long time, the Pentagon has stressed that the internet is part of war and is a ‘military front’. Before the first Gulf War, the CIA had planted a ‘virus chip’ in the printers purchased by Iraq. They activated the virus using remote control technology before launching the strategic bombing. Then the air defence control system of Iraq suffered a failure.
According to the estimation of defence expert Joel Harker, who has been studying the hacker program of the US military for 13 years, the US now has about 80,000 personnel engaging in cyber warfare. In terms of the ‘weapons’ for cyber warfare, they have developed more than 2,000 computer viruses that could be used in cyber attacks such as worms, trojans, logic bombs and trap-door viruses.