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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been imprisoned since the start of April after he called the Chinese government out on internal corrruption.  (Source: Extravaganzi)

Angry protestors have filled China's streets.  (Source: Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

China has focused cyberattacks on Change.org trying to silence the American site's free speech in protest of Ai Weiwei's detainment.  (Source: Chinese Defense Mashup)

It remains to be seen whether President Obama and Congress will do what it takes to protect U.S. free speech in the face of unprecedented, unbridled foreign cyber-aggression from China.  (Source: REUTERS/Jim Young)

  (Source: Asia News)
Pressure is on President Obama and Congress to protect American free speech against unbridled Chinese cyber-agression

In the definitive cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, published in 1984, author William Gibson prophetically envisioned that wars of the future would be fought over the internet -- a new construct at the time.  Today that prediction appears on the verge of coming true as we stand on the threshold of a vast digital battle.  Agents in China, believed to be working for, or endorsed by the Chinese federal government are carrying out a secret cyberwar against the U.S. government and U.S. businesses.  And that war appears to be escalating.

I. An Imprisoned Artist

Change.org, a progressive, for-profit advocacy group, recently launched a campaign to free imprisoned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.  The site now has found itself the subject of a dedicated internet attack by the legion Chinese hackers.

So who is Ai Weiwei and how did this mess get started?

Weiwei, 53, rose to prominence in China's artistic community in the 1970s and 1980s as a founding member of the art collective "Stars" (not to be confused with the similarly named Canadian indie rock band).  Ironically the Chinese government initially embraced the provocative multi-dimensional artist, even contracting Weiwei to help design Beijing National Stadium, which housed part of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But Weiwei's probing into the corruption of the Chinese government and his provocative work made him many enemies in the communist nation's bureaucratic ranks.  And on April 3 Weiwei was arrested and imprisoned, in part for his alleged support of the Jasmine protests -- a series of pro-democracy protests sweeping across China earlier this year.

Change.org took up the issue of Weiwei's imprisonment and called upon the Chinese government to release the iconic art figure, who today is internationally recognized as one of the world's top artists.

The petition currently has over 130,000 signatures making it the group's second highest profile petition.  The petition also is drawing a great deal of attention in the media [1][2][3].

II. China Attacks

The advocacy group didn't get a kind response from China.  Soon after the campaign began, distributed denial of service attacks began on the site.  Describes Brian Purchia, Communications Director for Change.org, "Change.org has been under a cyber attack for about 2 weeks after a campaign to free Ai Weiwei went viral."

We interviewed Mr. Purchia on the nature of these attacks.  He describes:

The original attack was a DoS Attack from two IP addresses in China. It started Monday, 4/18. It is still ongoing, but is now a bot.net attack. We are working with an online security services provider to keep our site up and protect our organization.

The downtime associated with the cyber-attack on Change.org has cost our company tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, and we've had to spend tens of thousands of dollars more to ensure the site doesn't suffer from the ongoing attacks.

The group, which has seen its fair share of controversy and challenges in the past is working with an experience online services provider and thus far has been able to maintain partial service to its website, even in the midst of the heavy attack.  However, the costs are threatening the organization, so it's calling on the government to intervene and defend U.S. interests.

III. FBI Fires Back

The government appears responsive to the group's plea for help.  The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations opened a formal investigation into the attacks last Wednesday and has began devoting resources to a response.

"We were contacted by a special agent from the FBI cyber squad, which has opened an official investigation into the DDoS attack on Change.org initiated on April 18. We are currently working with them to assess the various elements of this attack and mitigate its impact on our platform," Ben Rattray, Change.org founder describes.

Andrew J. Laine, spokesman for the U.S. State Department issued a statement last week, commenting, "Secretary Clinton has been a leading voice for Internet freedom around the world, and has elevated the issue to the top tier of American foreign policy. The State Department condemns all cyber attacks designed to stifle free speech on the Internet, including via 'distributed denial of service,' or DDOS."

The State Department stand comes after U.S. Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton urging her to take a stand against the attacks.  The letter received endorsement from U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Mr. Rattray praised the State Department's ensuing response, commenting, "This shows how seriously the State Department is taking the attacks on Change.org. We ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to condemn the ongoing attacks on the world's leading platform for social change and stand with Ai Weiwei.  Americans should be allowed to freely organize online without foreign interference."

IV. China Tells U.S. to Censor the Media

China's government has issued a statement attacking Change.org and, in effect, demanding the nullification of the American media's Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech.

"The issue is under investigation and the outside should not comment on this issue habitually," ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, "We hope that the outside can respect China's judicial sovereignty and judicial authorities handling the issue in accordance with law."

China, in the midst of a massive crackdown on dissents and alleged human rights violations, appears to be looking to flex its cyber-muscle to shut up the noisy American media.

In China, reporters who covered the imprisonment of Ai Weiwei have begun to disappear.  Critics of the Chinese government fear that these reporters may be residing in Chinese prison -- or worse.

V. Pending Legislation

Change.org is calling on Congress to pass legislation that would give additional prosecution powers to combat foreign cyber-attackers.  Mr. Purchia comments, "In terms of legislation to stop foreign cyber-attacks, Change.org is definitely interested in seeing Congress make cyber security a priority -- we've heard for years about how future wars will be fought online -- that future is now. We need our leaders to stand up for the right to organize online without foreign interference."

A recent survey by antivirus software firm McAfee found that the U.S. is among the worst industrialized nations in terms of protecting its companies and advocacies from foreign cyberattacks.  Many fear that without further action not only will U.S. media be actively suppressed on issues like Chinese protests and Tibet, but that China may be able to carry out catastrophic attacks on the power grid, water supply, or natural gas lines.

President Obama has vowed to get tough on cyber-security, much as he has on terrorism.  But it remains to be seen whether the President and members of the U.S. Congress will be willing to put aside their partisan differences and get tough on China, putting America's strength behind rebuffing the Asian giant's direct digital assault on American free speech.


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By Sazabi19 on 5/5/2011 3:56:39 PM , Rating: 4
Uh... we owe China at least hundres of billions of dollars, try walking away from that and sticking up the middle finger, doubt it goes over well. Also, the most populated country on the planet and one of the worlds super-powers and largest militaries. If we can do this without getting into a military flexing contest or something even worse that would be good. Soviets were in a financially bad spot, the Chinese are not, they also hold several rare elements that we can only get over there. As nice as it would be to get things good over there and democratic (like anyone really is?) it really just isn't in our best interest. Protect our infrastructure yes, all out, but don't start waving a stick at a larger creater with an even bigger stick. We both have REALLY big "guns", let's not use them though.


By kleinma on 5/5/2011 4:15:08 PM , Rating: 2
Largest military based on number of people in the military, but not largest in terms of actual capability and firepower. Having millions of foot soliders is not going to matter in the future warfare of UAVs and UGVs. It is all about the technology and firepower. Of course China has both technology (mostly stolen from us) and firepower, but we still have more (for now anyway). Yeah we owe china a ton of money, and guess what happens if we were to not pay it? They would be in trouble, not us. We don't get cheap electronics, they don't get money to feed their overpopulated and mostly poor country. The average income in China is around 4k per year.


By StevoLincolnite on 5/5/2011 10:15:19 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Largest military based on number of people in the military


I wouldn't be to concerned about the Chinese Military if I were you, going by the picture in the Article they are to busy enjoying StarCraft. :P


By TheBaker on 5/5/2011 11:52:54 PM , Rating: 2
Holy crap you're right. You can't tell from the small picture, but when you enlarge it you can clearly see that the dude in front is playing a game.

That just made my day.


By AnnihilatorX on 5/6/2011 3:40:31 AM , Rating: 2
Nah the actual attack is cleverly hidden and designed to look like a StarCraft game.


By AerieC on 5/6/2011 1:11:21 PM , Rating: 2
I loled hard. The caption makes it even more hilarious.


By wewter on 5/5/2011 4:19:27 PM , Rating: 2
try a couple Trillion.


By cruisin3style on 5/5/2011 7:16:30 PM , Rating: 2
The official number as of January was 1.1 trillion...which is scary because the last number I saw was ~800-900 billion from late last year


By Solandri on 5/5/2011 7:19:00 PM , Rating: 2
It's only $1.15 trillion.
http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart...

I say "only" because we have about $10 trillion in treasury securities debt. About $4.5 trillion of that is held by foreigners, and only $1.15 of that is held by China. So while they are the largest single holders of our debt, they hold just a bit over 10% of it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Estimated_owners...


By nafhan on 5/5/2011 4:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
The easiest way for us to kill our debt with China would be to put inflation through the roof as this would make US currency less valuable. Unfortunately, this screws up the US's credit rating, and has some terrible implications for businesses, retirement funds, etc. Unless we do something else SOON, there's a good chance that will be our only option in a few years.


By foolsgambit11 on 5/5/2011 6:50:35 PM , Rating: 2
Easy in the short-term, maybe. But look at a country like Argentina, which still hasn't recovered economically from the currency devaluation of about a decade ago. Of course, things would be different for the US, since it holds a much more critical position in the world economy.

There's always one last option available besides settling the debt through credit devaluation - war. If you can defeat the country you owe money to, then you can include an erasing of the debt in the terms of surrender. I don't condone this method, but all of the warmongering over China is probably partially about keeping this option open (in addition, of course, to philosophical and political disagreements, and protection of American power).


By Solandri on 5/5/2011 7:32:47 PM , Rating: 4
Given that the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been about $1.4 trillion in 9.5 years, and we only owe China a bit more than $1.1 trillion, and the fact that China only holds a bit more than 10% of our debt, I don't think war makes fiscal sense here.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

Some devaluation of our currency is inevitable since we're stubbornly refusing to let homes foreclose or poorly performing businesses go bankrupt. These are not discrete and independent events. There is no "save the homes and businesses but don't devalue the currency" option. When you do one, you cause the other. To put it simply, if a home or business is only worth $300k, but you refuse to value it below $400k, the market responds to this manipulation by lowering the value of the dollar until $400k now is worth what $300k used to be.


By CityZen on 5/6/2011 10:58:27 AM , Rating: 2
I disagree with the Argentina example. Being Argentinian myself, I know a thing or two about the evolution of Argentina's economy in the last decade. Yes, the devaluation of Argentina's currency of 2001 was brutal and probably poorly handled, but in retrospect it had to happen eventually. Unfortunately, it caused more suffering for us than strictly necessary due to the political crisis it also beget. BUT, after two dark (and long!) years of economic depression (worst in a century), recovery has been strong and widespread in Argentina. According to this data: http://www.indexmundi.com/argentina/gdp_real_growt...
Argentina's economy has been growing at an average of 7.5% per year for the last 7 years. And with the prices of commodities increasing, the outlook is good for at least the next two years.


By Jalek on 5/6/2011 9:25:54 AM , Rating: 2
There are easier ways, US currency isn't backed by anything, those notes could be suddenly worthless.

Of course it wouldn't be done, US banks also hold those notes as well as savings bonds and other debt instruments, and we've seen what the government is willing to do to the country to help them out.


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