The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.
The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure U.N. General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington -- which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying -- and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the U.N. negotiations.
The Brazilian and German initiative seeks to apply the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to online communications. Their proposal, first revealed by The Cable, affirms a "right to privacy that is not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence." It notes that while public safety may "justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information," nations "must ensure full compliance" with international human rights laws. A final version the text is scheduled to be presented to U.N. members on Wednesday evening and the resolution is expected to be adopted next week.
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A far-flung group of geeks, supported by the U.S. State Department, has built a tool for anonymous communication that's so secure that even the world's most sophisticated electronic spies haven't figured out how to crack it.
That's the takeaway from the latest revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The NSA has used aggressive computer attack techniques to monitor people using the Tor network, a service that's funded by the U.S. government and allows users to remain anonymous when they're connected to the Internet. But the agency has not been able to undermine the core of the Tor system, which was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2002. It remains a viable means for people to connect to the Internet anonymously. Although Tor's complete reliability has been called into question in light of the NSA's efforts -- which may have begun as early as 2006, according to the Washington Post -- for now it's State Department 1, NSA 0, in the anonymity wars.
The loss of industrial information and intellectual property through cyber espionage constitutes the "greatest transfer of wealth in history," the nation's top cyber warrior Gen. Keith Alexander said Monday.
U.S. companies lose about $250 billion per year through intellectual property theft, with another $114 billion lost due to cyber crime, a number that rises to $338 billion when the costs of down time due to crime are taken into account, said Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, in remarks Monday at the American Enterprise Institute.
"That's our future disappearing in front of us," Alexander said, quoting industry numbers to estimate that $1 trillion was spent globally last year on dealing with cyber espionage and cyber crime.
But the real threat on the Internet will come when cyber attacks become militarized, a threat the U.S. must deal with now, he said.
"What we need to worry about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks, which is going to happen.... We have to be ready for that," Alexander said. "This is even more difficult to the nuclear deterrent strategies we used to think about in the past."
There are 75 million unique pieces of malware in the database of McAfee, a leading cyber security company, Alexander said. Botnets, networks of compromised computers controlled remotely, send out 89.5 billion unsolicited e-mails per day, about one third of all emails sent. Over 100 countries have network exploitation capabilities, he said.
The number of cyber attacks rose 44 percent in 2011, malware increased by 60 percent, and the number of attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure rose from 9 in 2009 to more than 160 in 2011, Alexander said.
The major companies who have suffered successful cyber attacks since 2011 include Google, Booz Allen, Mitsubishi, Sony, AT&T, Visa, Stratfor, Chamber of Commerce, Symantec, Nissan, Visa, and Mastercard, he said. For every known attack, about 100 are successful and never detected, he added.
"The theft of intellectual property is astounding and we've got to stop that, and my part of that is we need to have a viable defense," he said.
Alexander called on Congress to pass cyber legislation, although he declined to endorse any particular bill moving its way through congress. He quoted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as warning of a cyber "Pearl Harbor," and quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a new U.S.-China dialogue on cyber issues.
He said that the U.S. government and its interlocutors should move to cloud-based computing, arguing that security in the cloud is more agile and responsive to threats, although not perfect. "We know that the system we are on today is not secure."
The U.S. government also needs more situational awareness in cyberspace and a more organized and active cadre of military cyber warriors to respond to threats, according to Alexander. "We need to build a trained and ready cyber force with the right number and the right capacity," he said.
"The conflict is growing, the probably for crisis is mounting. While we have the time, we should think about and enact those things that ensure our security in this area," he said. "And do it now, before the crisis."
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Technology and information penetration in China will eventually force the Great Firewall of China to crumble and even lead to the political opening of the Chinese system, according to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Schmidt, who stepped down as Google's CEO last year, remains the head of Google's board and its chief spokesman. He roams the planet speaking to audiences and exploring countries where Google could expand its operations. He has been called Google's "Ambassador to the World," a moniker he doesn't promote but doesn't dispute. He sat down for a long interview with The Cable on the sidelines of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival last week.
"I believe that ultimately censorship fails," said Schmidt, when asked about whether the Chinese government's censorship of the Internet can be sustained. "China's the only government that's engaged in active, dynamic censorship. They're not shy about it."
When the Chinese Internet censorship regime fails, the penetration of information throughout China will also cause political and social liberalization that will fundamentally change the nature of the Chinese government's relationship to its citizenry, Schmidt believes.
"I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior, that is my opinion," he said. "I think most people at Google would agree with that. The natural next question is when [will China change], and no one knows the answer to that question. [But] in a long enough time period, do I think that this kind of regime approach will end? I think absolutely."
The push for information freedom in China goes hand in hand with the push for economic modernization, according to Schmidt, and government-sponsored censorship hampers both.
"We argue strongly that you can't build a high-end, very sophisticated economy... with this kind of active censorship. That is our view," he said.
The Chinese government is the most active state sponsor of cyber censorship and cyber espionage in the world, with startling effectiveness, Schmidt said. Google and Beijing have been at odds since 2010, when the company announced it would no longer censor search terms on Google.cn and moved the bulk of its Chinese operations to Hong Kong. That move followed a series of Gmail attacks in 2010, directed at Chinese human rights activists, which were widely suspected to be linked to the Chinese government.
More recently, Google has taken an aggressive approach to helping users combat government cyber censorship, by doing things such as warning Gmail users when Google suspects their accounts are being targeted by state-sponsored attacks and telling users when search terms they enter are likely to be rejected by Chinese government censorship filters.
Schmidt doesn't present Google's focus on state-sponsored cyber oppression as a fight between Google and China. Google's policy is focused on helping users understand what is happening to their accounts and giving them the tools to protect themselves, he explained.
"We believe in empowering people who care about freedom of expression," he said. "The evidence today is that Chinese attacks are primarily industrial espionage.... It's primarily trade secrets that they're trying to steal, and then the human rights issues, that obviously they're trying to violate people's human rights. So those are the two things that we know about, but I'm sure that there will be others."
Google still has hundreds of engineers working inside China and maintains a rapidly growing advertising business there. But the Chinese government is likewise doing a lot to make using Google difficult inside China. There are weeks when Gmail services run slow; then mysteriously, the service will begin running smoothly again, Schmidt said. The Chinese censors sometimes issue punitive timeouts to users who enter prohibited search terms. And YouTube, which is owned by Google, is not visible in China.
"It's probably the case where the Chinese government will continue to make it difficult to use Google services," said Schmidt. "The conflict there is at some basic level: We want that information [flowing] into China, and at some basic level the government doesn't want that to happen."
Meanwhile, Schmidt has been circling the globe looking for ways to expand Google's outer frontiers. His last international trip took him to four conflict or recently post-conflict states: Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Tunisia.
"I've become particularly interested in the expansion of Google in sort of wacky countries -- you know, countries that have problems," he said. "You can't really know stuff unless you travel and see it. It helps with your impressions and your judgment."
Schmidt believes that smartphone technology can have a revolutionary effect on how people in the developing world operate and he is researching how smartphone use can help fight corruption and bad governance in poor countries. He also sees Google's expansion into the emerging markets as a timely business move.
"The evidence is that the most profitable business in most countries initially is the telecom sector. The joke is that you know the Somali pirates have to use cellphones, and so the strongest and most fastest-growing legal business in Somalia is the telecom industry," he said.
The revolutions of the Arab Spring show that open information systems can encourage and enable political change, according to Schmidt.
"I think that the countries that we're talking about all had very active censorship regimes, and they failed to censor the Internet. They wired the phone systems, the television was controlled, the newspapers were controlled; it was very hard to find genuinely new dissident voices except on the Internet. So you can think of what happened there as a failure to fully censor, and so it's obvious why we feel so strongly about openness and transparency," he said.
Unlike in China, Google has taken a more active role in other parts of the world by developing tools to spread information that could be used to foster more active democracies, such as with its project to organize and disseminate election information and political candidate data in places like Egypt.
"We're helping with the elections. So we're trying to help them with getting information to the candidates, and these are countries where Google is central to the public sphere," Schmidt said.
Google is also expanding its role in compiling data on government actors and their actions to aid people in the fight against corruption, but here Schmidt warns that only when there is a legal system to prosecute bad actors will this data be transformative.
"You need the data, and then you need somebody who's willing to prosecute the person who lies," he said. "All you have to do is have the information and then the penalty that has to be applied in a fair way, and it would change these countries dramatically."
Information is not enough to topple regimes, but in the end, regimes that fight the openness of information are doomed to fail, he said.
"The worst case scenario is the citizens have enormous information and the government is completely unresponsive. That would be Iran, for example. At some point, that's unstable," said Schmidt. "At some point, it gets worse ... but before they overthrow the current leader, they have to have the information to do that. That's why transparency matters."
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee will officially start work on a new sanctions bill against Iran, and senators are set to add even more sanctions to the bill as it goes through the legislative process -- including measures that directly target President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Banking Committee will mark up the Johnson-Shelby Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012, named after committee heads Sens. Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), who will lead Thursday's proceedings. The bill will pile on more punitive measures against Iran's energy, shipping, and mining sectors, while punishing a broader range of Iranian government officials for their involvement in human rights violations.
President Barack Obama's administration is still working to implement the last round of Iran sanctions that was signed into law, which included the Menendez-Kirk sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran that were added to the defense authorization bill in December by a 100-0 vote. But the Senate has no intention of giving the administration a breather, and Thursday's mark-up is the beginning of a new and aggressive push to tighten the noose on Tehran and further damage the Iranian economy.
"Iran's continuing defiance of its international legal obligations and refusal to come clean on its nuclear program underscore the need to further isolate Iran and its leaders," Johnson said in statement about the bill.
The bill would sanction anyone who provides Iran with equipment or technology that facilitates censorship or the suppression of human rights, including weapons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and other riot control equipment -- as well as jamming, monitoring, and surveillance equipment. It also calls on the administration to develop a more robust Internet freedom strategy for Iran and speed related assistance to pro-democracy activists in the country.
The legislation would also formally establish that U.S. policy is intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and would require the administration to report extensively and repeatedly on its efforts to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on the Iranian regime.
Johnson and Shelby's bill expands sanctions to cover companies involved in joint ventures with Iran that aid the country's energy sector, targets any Iranian joint ventures involving uranium mining, authorizes the administration to target corporate executives of sanctioned firms, and requires U.S. companies to report to the SEC business they have with any Iranian firms that could fall under sanctions.
The Banking Committee bill is a scaled-down version of the Iran, Syria, North Korea Sanctions Consolidation Act, sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Scott Brown (R-MA). The Syria and North Korea provisions in that bill were left out of the Banking Committee's version so there wouldn't be any jurisdictional confusion between the Banking Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.
Several senators are set to offer amendments on Thursday to strengthen the Johnson-Shelby bill even further. Although negotiations are still ongoing, a list of the amendments in the queue as of Wednesday afternoon was obtained by The Cable.
Among the amendments that could be considered in committee on Thursday is an amendment by Menendez, offered on behalf of himself and Kirk (who is in Chicago recovering from a stroke) that would impose immigration restrictions on Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, and a host of other senior Iranian government officials. The amendment would also trigger visa restrictions on Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, although those restrictions could be waived for U.N. meetings in New York.
A separate amendment by Menendez and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), also offered on behalf of Kirk, would sanction banks with officers on the board of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), the organization that handles the bulk of international electronic bank transfers, if SWIFT doesn't stop processing transactions for Iranian banks.
Another Menendez amendment would require the Treasury Department to determine whether the Iranian National Oil Company and the Iranian National Tanker Company are tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If they are, those two companies would then be sanctioned as well, which could wreak further havoc on Iran's economy.
"This is a reminder that there are still more stones left unturned and there are still more ways to increase the pressure on an already extraordinarily pressured Iranian economy," a senior Senate aide told The Cable. "In bipartisan fashion, the Senate is moving to do just that."
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was entangled in a computer hacking scam that targeted international affairs experts and showed evidence of originating from China.
"On August 2, 2011 a small number of people received a phishing email referencing a recent CNAS report. The email came from an AOL email account that has no association with any CNAS network," CNAS external relations director Shannon O'Reilly said in an e-mail Friday afternoon. "We wish to assure users that the phishing email did not come from CNAS nor would CNAS ever ask for password information."
CNAS is a Washington think tank founded by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. After Campbell and Flournoy entered the Obama administration, they handed over the reins to current CEO Nate Fick and President John Nagl.
The e-mail was sent to people "associated with political and international affairs," according to Mila Parkour, an Internet security expert who analyzed the hacking attempt on the blog Contagio. The e-mail asked the target to log into Gmail via an embedded link. If the target did so, their passwords were stored and their Gmail accounts began to be monitored from an unknown location.
The style of the attack is called "phishing," an attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.
Government officials and international experts have been the targets of phishing attacks for years and the threat comes from many countries, but Defense Department officials have admitted that the great majority of cyber espionage attempts against the U.S. government come from China. Some officials believe these attacks are carried out with either the explicit or implicit permission of the Chinese government.
There's no way to be sure, but Paul Roberts at the Threat Post blog reported that there are some similarities between the CNAS-related attack and other Chinese cyber espionage attempts.
"Attackers accessed the account using TOR (The Onion Router), so it's unclear where they accessed the account from," he said. "However, other aspects of the spear phishing attack bear the telltale signatures of a China-based operation, including the source IP of the phishing e-mail, which traces back to Taiwan, and the attackers use of Foxmail to create and send the phishing e-mail -- a common trait of China-based spear phishing attacks."
Last January, several U.S. government officials received an e-mail from "firstname.lastname@example.org," which turned out to be a fake State Department e-mail address. That email was crafted to look like an interagency communication over a U.S.-China joint statement ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.
"This is the latest version of State's joint statement. My understanding is that State put in placeholder econ language and am happy to have us fill in but in a rush to get a cleared version from the WH they sent the attached to Mike," the fake e-mail said.
If the recipient clicked on "the attached," his system would be compromised. One U.S. official told us that a similar gambit was attempted during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last June.
The latest attack had the subject line, "CNAS Report Calls Declining Satellite Capabilities National Security Concern." That refers to a recent CNAS report that is actually quite interesting and can be found here.
Meanwhile, think tankers and officials around Washington are surely changing their Gmail passwords today and CNAS is warning that this won't be the last fishy phishing e-mail to hit the Washington foreign policy community.
"This incident is illustrative of a growing trend in which users are contacted by what appears to be trusted individuals or institutions in order to acquire sensitive information," O'Reilly said.
The Russian blogosphere erupted this week with criticism of an apparent State Department effort to court Russian pro-democracy bloggers through the Twitter feed @StateDeptRussia. But it turns out the account was a fake, and the State Department convinced Twitter to shut it down.
"We must know the enemy in person and track his steps. Beware to the friends and the readers of this blog! Read, listen, watch @StateDeptRussia," wrote one Russian blogger about the Twitter feed, which had an official State Department logo as its avatar but did not have the blue check mark that certifies a Twitter feed is authentic.
The cached version of the now defunct feed can be found here. Written in Russian, it seemed similar to other State Department feeds around the world, mixing general U.S. policy statements with tweets offering grants to Russian bloggers who wanted to work with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
"Internet activists are changing the world, we are ready to cooperate with the young Russian bloggers," read a tweet from the account on March 19.
"We invite bloggers to cooperate in promoting democracy in Russia, the generous grants are waiting for you," read another March 25 tweet.
Alec Ross, the State Department's senior advisor for innovation, told The Cable that once the State Department became aware of the account, they asked Twitter to shut it down.
"Through our normal course of business following social media, the Department determined that it was a fake account masquerading as authentic so we alerted Twitter," he said.
Fake accounts are okay if they're advertised as such (like the very funny @MayorEmanuel) but feeds that are designed to fool the public violates Twitter's terms of service.
said part of the excitement and the risk of pushing government communications
into cyberspace was the recognition that there were opportunities for others to
abuse these tools.
"As the Department grows increasingly strong in social media spaces, we expect counter-measures from people who don't share our interests," he said.
Ross, who has over 335,000 followers, is now the State Department's top tweeter, following the departure of his cohort Jared Cohen (@jaredcohen), who is now the head of a new "think-do" tanks called Google Ideas.
Foggy Bottom is flat out denying a British news report on Sunday that said State Department money would be awarded to the BBC to combat Internet censorship around the world.
"The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China," the Guardian reported.
In fact, State has not yet made any decisions on how to spend the $30 million of congressionally appropriated money for fighting internet censorship that is sitting in its coffers. The BBC World Trust Service is just one of the 61 organizations applying for the funds, but has not gotten any approval or grants.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner called the Guardian article "inaccurate and misleading."
"The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom, as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions," Posner said in a statement.
He also said State has no intention of announcing the awarding of the funds on May 3, Press Freedom Day, as the Guardian article alleged. Our sources said that proposals are due on March 31; the following week, evaluation panels will meet to go over the proposals and make decisions.
On Capitol Hill, there's a bipartisan push to make sure most of those funds go to the U.S. government funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to immediately transfer no less than $8 million of the funds to the BBG.
Lugar is concerned that America is falling behind in the public diplomacy competition to countries that are expanding their external media operations, such as China.
"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation's public we are in another lop-sided contest," Lugar wrote in a recent report (PDF).
In Senate testimony earlier this month, Clinton agreed.
"We are in an information war, and we are losing that war," she said. "I'll be very blunt in my assessment. Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened a global English language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network."
The House's version of the temporary funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 calls for $10 million to be transferred from State to BBG toward this effort; the Senate version of the bill calls for $15 million. Aides on the Hill told The Cable that if a significant portion of the funds don't end up in BBG hands, Lugar and other lawmakers will get deeply involved in pressuring State to rethink its decision.
"Given the recent language included in both House and Senate continuing resolutions, the State Department's inability to see the Congressional handwriting on the wall on this issue is nothing short of breathtaking," a GOP Senate aide said.
The world's leading Internet giant and a leading foreign policy think tank are convening a major conference this summer in Ireland that will bring together former violent extremists to discuss how to prevent homegrown terrorism.
Google Ideas, the new "think/do tank" led by former State Department official Jared Cohen, is organizing a 3-day event in Dublin in late June in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations, where Cohen is also a fellow. The event will bring together about 50 former extremists who used to be members of inner city street gangs, white power groups, Muslim fundamentalist groups, and other violent youth organizations. Over 200 experts from academia, civil society groups, tech companies, victims' groups, and private corporations will also join.
Homeland Security chairman Peter King's (R-NY) controversial congressional hearings last week were criticized for their focus on Muslim extremism. The CFR/Google conference seeks to reframe the debate over homegrown extremism as a problem that cuts across political, geographic, and religious lines.
"We've seen anecdotal evidence of similarities across different types of violent organizations, from gangs to right wing extremists to religious extremists," Cohen told The Cable in an interview. "We know they target young people, we know they are comprised largely of young people, and we know they use similar tactics. But there's a lot of exploring left to be done."
This new project, Cohen's first major endeavor as head of Google Ideas, will focus on "formers" -- troubled youth who have not only left their violent organizations but also speak out against them publicly. The idea is to link them up with professionals, victims' advocates, and even technology firms to help them coordinate their efforts.
The conference will feature "formers" from urban African American gangs, rural white power gangs, neo Nazis gangs, Latin American gangs, Asian gangs, and former nationalist extremists from Ireland, Europe, and Asia, as well as Islamist extremists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.
"We have a hypothesis that we are exploring," said Cohen. "When you remove the masks of religion or ideology or anything else, what are the root causes? If we accept that nobody is born wanting to be a terrorist, then what happens between the time when they're young and the time when they join these groups?"
This is the first major conference for Google Ideas, and their first major collaboration with CFR. Cohen said the project fits well into Google's efforts to look at the way technology and information can be used to push forward constructive solutions to global problems.
"Counter radicalization is a big challenge for American foreign policy. It's imperative for us to acknowledge the problem and then to ask the question, how do you move against it," said CFR Vice President James Lindsay in an interview.
CFR has been steadily ramping up its activity on this front. The think tank recently brought on Ed Husain, the founding director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British counter-extremism think tank, as a senior fellow in their Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative. It also started a cooperative program on examining violent extremism with Georgetown University.
So is the Google/CFR project meant to make the point that religion is not a driver of radicalization?
"What we're trying to do is create space for cross-context discussions that haven't taken place before," said Cohen. "Maybe religion doesn't feature at all into the conversations, maybe it features a fair amount. We don't know yet."
For those who can't make it to Dublin but want a taste of the discussion, CFR and Google Ideas are holding a panel discussion April 29 in New York on the topic in conjunction with the Tribeca Film Festival, where six of the "formers" will speak.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has announced that Jeff Gedmin will step down as the head of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Prague-based organization he has led since 2007.
Gedmin will move to London to become CEO and president of the Legatum Institute, a research organization focused on understanding free markets and promoting the issues of democracy and civil society. He starts in his new role March 1.
In an interview from Prague, Gedmin said that his decision to leave RFE/RL after working so hard on its expansion for the last four years was the toughest career decision he's ever made.
"The best time to leave a job you love is never, yet if you are genuinely committed to growth and personal development, you always have to mindful of what you're giving to the organization where you work as well as what your next step will be," Gedmin said.
"I decided it was the right time to move on because if I'm telling my people to step out of their comfort zone and be open to growth, I have to be able to take my own advice."
Gedmin's tenure at RFE/RL was marked by an expansion of the reporting resources there. He now manages a staff of over 550 people in Prague and RFE/RL has about 40 personnel in Washington, DC as well. Gedmin oversaw the launching of Radio Mashaal, a news service covering neglected regions of Pakistan, which will celebrate its one year anniversary this week.
RFE/RL under Gedmin's leadership has also expanded its reporting in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Through the use of anti-censorship Internet technologies, the RFE/RL websites now log over 1 million visitors each month from inside Iran through a proxy server.
Multiple staff members told The Cable that Gedmin's departure would leave a huge void at RFE/RL, but they nevertheless wished him well.
"He's immensely popular in the building with the staff. He's completely revamped this [organization] into a 21st century media operation. He's really put it on the map. Everybody is really disappointing that he's leaving," said one employee.
Another reporter for RFE/RL in Prague noted how Gedmin transitioned the organization's focus "away from the traditional places, toward the Caucasus, toward Central Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran. Those are the hotbeds today where accurate, reliable information is in need the way it was in Eastern Europe during the cold war."
Gedmin's departure comes just after the installation of the BBG's new chairman, Walter Isaacson, former head of CNN and Time magazine.
"Jeff's passion for the power of the truth has been a great inspiration for all of us involved in international broadcasting," Isaacson said in statement. "The Board looks forward to Jeff serving as a valuable adviser in the future."
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has a new chairman in Walter Isaacson, and the former CNN and Time magazine chief is calling for even more money for the BBG to combat the public diplomacy efforts of America's "enemies," which he identifies as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China.
The BBG, which oversees a $700 million annual budget to run such organizations as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia, funds breakthrough reporting in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, but at the same time is facing increased competition from other governments' forays into international broadcasting.
Isaacson said that other countries are stepping up their international broadcasting efforts and that the Congress must allow the U.S. government to do the same.
"We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies," he said. "You've got Russia Today, Iran's Press TV, Venezuela's TeleSUR, and of course, China is launching an international broadcasting 24-hour news channel with correspondents around the world [and has] reportedly set aside six to ten billion [dollars] -- we've to go to Capitol Hill with that number -- to expand their overseas media operations."
Isaacson said that combating internet censorship would be a major focus of the BBG under his leadership and that China and Iran were the prime targets.
"China, Iran, and other countries block democratic impulses using their later technologies, and Beijing has deployed armies of cyber militias to go after their country's cyber dissidents," he said. "The BBG is at the forefront of combating this. Through constant innovation and technical evolution, our engineers are opening up the Internet gateway for audiences in China and Iran."
"We know where we stand in the fight for Internet freedom," Isaacson said. "Wherever there is a firewall, it's our duty to storm it, to denounce it and to circumvent it."
Isaacson was speaking at last week's 60th anniversary celebration for Radio Free Europe, which he credited as contributing to the end of the Cold War. He made it clear the BBG's outlets will stick to reporting the news objectively, even if that conflicts with the foreign policy of the Obama administration.
"It's sometimes said that our international broadcasting is in a difficult position because by law and by tradition it's tasked with two separate missions that might conflict: first of all, covering the news with the highest journalistic standards and secondly, being a part of America's public diplomacy by accurately conveying its policies and values to the world," Isaacson said.
"Let me say to you, my fellow journalists, that I will stress and we will stress the primacy of the first of these missions, our mission of being credible journalists, because in fact, it's the only way to carry out the second mission. You can't do it unless you're credible and telling the truth, and in the end, the truth is on our side."
Pressed by The Cable to explain exactly what that means, especially in light of reports that the Obama administration sought to influence BBG reporting after the disputed Iranian presidential elections, Isaacson promised he wouldn't hesitate to air views that contradict American foreign policy on BBG stations.
He said that the goals of American foreign policy and the objectives of credible journalism overlap about 90 percent of the time -- as for the other 10 percent, a choice must be made.
"I feel it's the role of the BBG to always make the choice on the side of credible journalism, just as you would in the private sector," Isaacson said. "We can never compromise our credibility. And in doing so, that will probably help further the foreign policy interests of the United States. But if it's ever a real conflict, our goal one is to protect our credibility."
UPDATE: Isaacson e-mails in to The Cable to apologize for the remark, while saying that the "enemies" he was referring to were in Afghanistan, not the several countries he mentioned.
"I of course did not mean to refer to, nor do I consider, that Russia, China, and the other countries or news services are enemies of the U.S., and I'm sorry if I gave that impression," he said.
With all about the chatter about China’s hacking of Google and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s drive to deliver “consequences” to bad actors in cyberspace, it’s worth noting that the problem of cyber attacks either promulgated or supported by the Chinese government is far from new.
In a previous life, your Cable guy broke a story that revealed senior military officials believe the Chinese government is supporting hackers that attack “anything and everything” in the U.S. national security infrastructure on a constant basis. And while it’s difficult to prove guilt, the scale, organization, and intent of the attacks leads experts and officials alike to one sponsor: the Chinese government.
The Defense Department has said that the Chinese government, in addition to employing thousands of its own hackers, manages massive teams of experts from academia and industry in “cyber militias” that act in Chinese national interests with unclear amounts of support and direction from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
According to SANS Institute research director Alan Paller, “The problem is 1,000 times worse than what we see.” But the tip of the iceberg is still large. Here are some of the most damaging attacks on the U.S. government that have been attributed to Chinese government sponsorship or endorsement over the past few years:
1) Titan Rain
In 2004, an analyst named Shawn Carpenter at Sandia National Laboratories traced the origins of a massive cyber espionage ring back to a team of government sponsored researchers in Guangdong Province in China. The hackers, code named by the FBI “Titan Rain,” stole massive amounts of information from military labs, NASA, the World Bank, and others. Rather than being rewarded, Carpenter was fired and investigated after revealing his findings to the FBI, because hacking foreign computers is illegal under U.S. law. He later sued and was awarded more than $3 million. The FBI renamed Titan Rain and classified the new name. The group is still assumed to be operating.
2) State Department’s East Asia Bureau
In July 2006, the State Department admitted it had become a victim of cyber hacking after an official in “East Asia” accidentally opened an email he shouldn’t have. The attackers worked their way around the system, breaking into computers at U.S. embassies all over the region and then eventually penetrating systems in Washington as well.
3) Offices of Rep. Frank Wolf
Wolf has been one of the most outspoken lawmakers on Chinese human rights issues, so it was of little surprise when he announced that in August 2006 that his office computers had been compromised and that he suspected the Chinese government. Wolf also reported that similar attacks had compromised the systems of several other congressmen and the office of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
4) Commerce Department
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security had to throw away all of its computers in October 2006, paralyzing the bureau for more than a month due to targeted attacks originating from China. BIS is where export licenses for technology items to countries like China are issued.
5) Naval War College
In December 2006, the Naval War College in Rhode Island had to take all of its computer systems offline for weeks following a major cyber attack. One professor at the school told his students that the Chinese had brought down the system. The Naval War College is where much military strategy against China is developed.
6) Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and the 2003 blackout?
A National Journal article revealed that spying software meant to clandestinely steal personal data was found on the devices of then Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and several other officials following a trade mission to China in December 2007. That same article reported that intelligence officials traced the causes of the massive 2003 northeast blackout back to the PLA, but some analysts question the connection.
7) McCain and Obama presidential campaigns
That’s right, both the campaigns of then Senators Barack Obama and John McCain were completely invaded by cyber spies in August 2008. The Secret Service forced all campaign senior staff to replace their Blackberries and laptops. The hackers were looking for policy data as a way to predict the positions of the future winner. Senior campaign staffers have acknowledged that the Chinese government contacted one campaign and referred to information that could only have been gained from the theft.
8) Office of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL
At a March 2009 hearing, Nelson revealed that his office computers had been hacked three separate times and his aide confirmed that the attacks had been traced back to China. The targets of the attacks were Nelson’s foreign-policy aide, his legislative director, and a former NASA advisor.
In March, 2009, researchers inToronto concluded a 10-month investigation that revealed a massive cyber espionage ring they called Ghostnet that had penetrated more than 1,200 systems in 103 countries. The victims were foreign embassies, NGOs, news media institutions, foreign affairs ministries, and international organizations. Almost all Tibet-related organizations had been compromised, including the offices of the Dalai Lama. The attacks used Chinese malware and came from Beijing.
10) Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program
In April, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that China was suspected of being behind a major theft of data from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter program, the most advanced airplane ever designed. Multiple infiltrations of the F-35 program apparently went on for years.
President Obama's trip to China gave Chinese citizens a window into the views and vision of the new American leader, but it also gave the world a window into the censorship and information control still practiced every day by the Chinese Communist Party.
Obama's town-hall meeting with handpicked Shanghai students, during which he praised the free flow of information and citizens' right to open government, was not broadcast outside of Shanghai.
And Obama's interview with China's Southern Weekend newspaper, which has a reputation for pushing the boundaries and the buttons of the government censors, disappeared from both hard copies and electronic versions of the paper.
On Thursday, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was established by Congress in 2000 to independently evaluate China, came out with a new report that lays out exactly how the Chinese government thinks and acts on Internet censorship and media control through its secretive but powerful "Propaganda Department."
The commission is recommending that Congress look into any agreement with American Internet companies that might give personal information to the Chinese government. The commission is also recommending that Congress investigate whether Chinese Internet censorship violates its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization.
"The propaganda system of the People's Republic of China (PRC) exercises control of information as a form of state power. It does not limit itself simply to monitoring and censoring news but instead has developed into ‘a sprawling bureaucratic establishment, extending into virtually every medium concerned with the dissemination of information,'" the report states.
The Communist leadership sends policy directives down through the Propaganda Department, which then lords over all sorts of entities, including newspapers, radio outlets, TV and film companies, and even artist and musicians' associations. Personnel appointments at all sorts of cultural and academic institutions have to be vetted through the Propaganda Department, which works hard to conceal its role.
"The Propaganda Department is both a highly influential and highly secretive body: it is not listed on any official diagrams of the Chinese party-state structure, its street address and phone numbers are classified as state secrets, and there is no sign outside the Propaganda Department's main office complex in Beijing."
Meanwhile, the Chinese government operates what the report calls the most extensive and sophisticated Internet control system in the world. A filtering system called the "Golden Shield Project" uses technologies sold to the China by U.S. firms such as Cisco to keep out anti-government information. An estimated 30,000 internet monitors scour the Chinese Web to find violations and a loose network of independent Internet users get paid small amounts for posting content favorable to the PRC in what's known as the "Fifty Cent Party."
Media, educational, and cultural professionals in China also self-censor under fear of fines, demotion, termination, and imprisonment, the USCC reported. Foreign journalists are not outside the reach of such threats and intimidation.
Although the technologies have advanced, the Chinese government's drive to drown out outside voices is not new, said the commission's vice chairman, Larry Wortzel.
Wortzel was an official escort to then Secretary of State Madeline Albright and then First Lady Hillary Clinton to a 1995 women's conference in Beijing. "When Albright began her speech, seven provincial Chinese women's bands began playing music that sounded like cats being castrated inside a garbage can and the microphones failed," he remembered. "These are just the sorts of roadblocks that are institutionalized when you deal with the Chinese."
"The reality is, it is still an authoritarian government that still maintains tight access to information, as tight control as they are able to maintain," said commission chairwoman Carolyn Bartholomew.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.