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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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Wake Up
By stacks on 5/5/2011 5:58:16 PM , Rating: 1
Reality check...when Bush threw away the surplus, he threw away America's ability to stand up to China. The world is in the grip of a country prepared to do what it takes to suppress dissent both locally and now globally. Folks we are in serious trouble...




RE: Wake Up
By Solandri on 5/5/2011 7:44:22 PM , Rating: 2
The surplus in Clinton's last years was an illusion created by a spike in tax revenue caused by the tech bubble. While spending did drop, it didn't drop below the average spending (as percent of GDP) for the latter half of the 20th century. If you average out the revenue line between the tech bubble and 2000-2002 recession, there is no surplus.
http://reason.com/assets/mc/ngillespie/2010_12/rev...

Likewise, Bush's spending wasn't outlandish. Federal spending during his 8 years was about the same as under Clinton's 8 years. What caused the deficits under Bush were the recession following the tech bubble coupled with the economic blow of 9/11, and Bush's ill-thought out tax cuts.


RE: Wake Up
By Targon on 5/6/2011 12:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
Do you even understand the difference between an economic boom and a bubble? The surge in technology from the late 70s through late 1990s was not a bubble, but was caused by a great deal of innovation and advances. What caused the bubble was when a large number of technically incompetent business people decided they wanted to get in on the tech BOOM, and because they had access to venture money, they were able to start businesses. Yes, there was a bubble, caused by these incompetent idiots who thought they could found a technical company with ZERO technical knowledge, but up until 1998 or so, what we had was a true boom that would NOT have collapsed if the business people had stuck with what they knew, and stayed out of the tech industry.

Now, when it comes to spending, the Bush era was about not putting the military into the budget, and just sending them to war without having it PROPERLY financed. As a result, you can't say that spending was the same, because George W. spent a LOT more. Having more income during the Clinton era did HELP a lot, but you can't ignore the sudden drop in overall tax revenue that came from the tech CRASH.


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