The Cable

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An ill-advised Hong Kong party favor

The Hong Kong regional government’s annual New Year’s party is a marquee Washington social event, but some guests were surprised at the choice of this year’s party favor – a USB computer connection device! Rows of tables of delicacies like shrimp dumplings and made-to-order Peking Duck rolls lined the grand hall at the National Building ...

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572982_hongkong32.jpg

The Hong Kong regional government's annual New Year's party is a marquee Washington social event, but some guests were surprised at the choice of this year's party favor - a USB computer connection device!

Rows of tables of delicacies like shrimp dumplings and made-to-order Peking Duck rolls lined the grand hall at the National Building Museum Wednesday evening as scores of Asia hands, diplomats, officials, and hungry journalists noshed, kibitzed, and took in the atmosphere. There was a full program including a huge papier-mâché dragon, an authentic sounding drumming troupe, and dancing Chinese toddlers to boot.

The Hong Kong regional government’s annual New Year’s party is a marquee Washington social event, but some guests were surprised at the choice of this year’s party favor – a USB computer connection device!

Rows of tables of delicacies like shrimp dumplings and made-to-order Peking Duck rolls lined the grand hall at the National Building Museum Wednesday evening as scores of Asia hands, diplomats, officials, and hungry journalists noshed, kibitzed, and took in the atmosphere. There was a full program including a huge papier-mâché dragon, an authentic sounding drumming troupe, and dancing Chinese toddlers to boot.

A good time was had by all, but as guests departed, they were handed an innocuous plastic box that turned out to contain a gadget for linking several USB-compatible devices to one USB computer port. Seemed like an ironic choice, considering all of the recent news of China’s suspected cyber mischief aimed at the U.S. policy community and the Pentagon’s warnings about USB devices.

"There’s no way I’m putting that thing into my computer!" said one bemused attendee who happens to work for a prominent DC think tank.

So was the Hong Kong government trying to spread malware to DC Asia wonks through party favors? Were they just being ironic? Was it a pure coincidence?

"It was entirely a coincidence," said Daniel McAtee, senior information officer at the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office, "Our tech-focused San Francisco office came up with the idea back in September given that flash drives increasingly seem to be the ‘it’ gift at functions."

The Cable conducted an amateur forensic investigation (we had an IT specialist take a quick look). The result was that the device contains no storage, has nothing inside of it that seemed suspicious, and didn’t raise any alarm bells in basic diagnostic testing.

"I don’t think it is malicious but you know, I am not NSA," our tester reported.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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