Stories from the New China (and beyond)

China’s Big Brother Internet: Ten essential publications

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Google the keywords “Cisco, Falun Gong, lawsuit and China” and you won’t get far in our memory-hole society. So here are my best picks for journalists and everyone else. Copy, distribute, and quibble if you like. But read to the last entry, because it’s important to accurately reflect history and the collective gathering of evidence.  This investigation has never been a silver bullet, but a slow chain reaction. A long time coming perhaps, but be assured that it has now gone critical.

1)   The Great Firewall of China

1997: Groundbreaking article on the early efforts to censor the Chinese web written by the only journalists to actually make it inside the PSB: Geremie R. Barme and Sang Ye.

In an equipment-crowded office in the Air Force Guesthouse on Beijing’s Third Ring Road sits the man in charge of computer and Net surveillance at the Public Security Bureau.

2)   The Anaconda in the Chandelier

2002: Prescient essay on Chinese (and Western) self-censorship by Perry Link.

Normally the great snake doesn’t move.  It doesn’t have to.  It feels no need to be clear about its prohibitions.  Its constant silent message is “You yourself decide,” after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments–all quite “naturally.” 

3)   Government Counterstrategies

2002: Critical chapter from the RAND publication You’ve Got Dissent! by Michael S. Chase and James C. Mulvenon which traces the first hacking attacks on North American Falun Gong websites back to China.

The name of the organization, “Information Service Center of XinAn Beijing,” sounded innocuous enough, but the street address told a very different story. The address, #14 East Chang’an Street…in Beijing, is that of the Ministry of Public Security, China’s internal security service…

4)   Who Lost China’s Internet?

2002: Ethan Gutmann’s seminal investigation into Cisco System’s role in constructing the great firewall and its early collusion with China’s “Golden Shield.”

…to ensure that all pipes lead back to Rome–they needed the networking superpower, Cisco, to standardize the Chinese Internet and equip it with firewalls on a national scale. According to the Chinese engineer, Cisco came through, developing a router device, integrator, and firewall box specially designed for the government’s telecom monopoly…Michael confirms: “Cisco made a killing. They are everywhere.”

5)   More on Cisco in China and My Conversation with Cisco

2005: Rebecca MacKinnon posts the first Cisco System “Golden Shield” PowerPoint documents on Rconversation.com and Cisco representatives react.

  • Alberstein confirmed the authenticity of the Cisco pamphlets promoting police surveillance equipment to the Chinese Public Security Bureau acquired by businessman and author Ethan Gutmann from a Chinese trade show.
  • Cisco confirms that it does indeed sell networking and telecommunications equipment directly to Public Security and other law enforcement offices all over China. 

6)   Testimony of Harry Wu

2006: In the wake of Shi Tao arrest, Harry Wu entered the Cisco PowerPoint into the Congressional record at a House hearing on “The Internet in China: A Tool For Freedom or Suppression?”

Through several telephone inquiries to local managers of Cisco Systems in China, it was confirmed that nearly all of China has been employing Cisco’s surveillance technology in provincial, district and county police agencies…

7)   Helping Big Brother Go High Tech

2006: A Business Week investigation accurately captures the state-of-play as American companies continue to transfer surveillance technologies that are employed against Falun Gong and other dissidents.

Hao says the Tianjin branch has a database containing 30,000 practitioners of the banned sect as well as additional names of other unauthorized religious groups. Some of the data were drawn from China’s elaborate hukou, the household registration system that helps the government monitor and control the population. The digitization of hukou, an enormous task that is part of the Golden Shield project, has involved American technology…”Aside from the public security bureau’s use of technology for criminal cases, the most important [use] is the tracking and suppression of Falun Gong followers,” says Hao.

8)   Overview of the Public Security Sector

2008: Created by Cisco operatives in China in 2002, a PowerPoint with far greater detail than previous versions is leaked to Wired Magazine.

The Golden Shield Project:

Public Network Information Security Monitor System


  • Stop the network-related crimes
  • Guarantee the security and services of public network
  • Combat “Falun Gong” evil religion and other hostiles 

9)   Hacker Nation

2010: In a case of chickens coming home to roost, Gutmann’s essay explores the legacy of surveillance technology transfer on Chinese internal security and traces the evolution into China’s current cyber-assault on America.

…as a result of what Hao describes as a joint venture between the Shandong Province public security bureau and Cisco Systems…“As far as following practitioners,” he says, “the Golden Shield includes the ability to monitor online chatting services and mail, identifying IPs and all of the person’s previous communication, and then being able to lock in on the person’s location—because a person will usually use the computer at home or at work. And then the arrest is carried out.”

10)   Suit Claims Cisco Helped China Pursue Falun Gong

2011: John Markoff of the New York Times reports on legal action against Cisco.

Terri Marsh, a lawyer for the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington, said the group had compiled detailed information about Cisco’s role in the design of Chinese information centers that host Falun Gong database applications connected to network surveillance and tracking systems.

UPDATE: And 11) Cisco Poised to Help China Keep an Eye on Its Citizens

Western companies including Cisco Systems Inc. are poised to help build an ambitious new surveillance project in China—a citywide network of as many as 500,000 cameras that officials say will prevent crime but that human-rights advocates warn could target political dissent. 

Written by eastofethan

May 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

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