- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Ethan Guttman has a fascinating piece in World Affairs Journal about China’s efforts to track and quash dissidents through computer surveillance. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Hao Fengjun, a former Chinese government surveillance expert from the secret "6-10 Office" who defected and now lives in Australia.
When he joined that security office in 2000, Hao was surprised to find extensive files on Falun Gong members. "Every person’s specific details — including family member information, everything of everything, how many practitioners in each district, how many coordinators, et cetera… These things are not something that can be done and collected in just one or two years."
Following the 1999 official crackdown on Falun Gong, Guttman writes, its members
were isolated, fragmented, and searching for a way to organize and change government policy, they jumped online, employing code words, avoiding specifics, communicating in short bursts. But like a cat listening to mice squeak in a pitch-black house, the ‘Internet Spying’ section of the 6-10 Office could find their exact location, having developed the ability to search and spy as a result of what Hao describes as a joint venture between the Shandong Province public security bureau and Cisco Systems.
The defector also tells Guttman that the "6-10 Office" also sent out false refugees to track overseas activity and undermine dissident organizations. These phonies were
young, trained to mimic Falun Gong behavior, and holding paperwork confirming time spent in laogai, China’s penal system. ‘No matter how clever the Australian or the American government is,’ Hao told me, ‘they have no way to distinguish the real [Falun Gong refugees] and the police officers.’
If you are going to read one magazine article today, let it be this one.
Meanwhile, the State Department is giving $1.5 million to an internet freedom group with ties to Falun Gong.