FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hacking China

by

On April 23, Mark Mazzetti reported in the New York Times that the FBI had used Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker it had in its clutches, to coordinate hacks in 2012 against Iran, Syria, Brazil, and Pakistan, and other targets.  The actual hacks were carried about by an associate of Monsegur, Jeremy Hammond, who was a dupe in that he did not know that Monsegur was turning over the information and access he gleaned to the US government.

Jeremy Hammond is serving a ten-year jail sentence for other hacks.  I’m not clear if Monsegur is currently incarcerated; last reference I saw was to the cancellation of a 2013 court date that was expected to give him a suspended sentence for a previous guilty plea.  In addition to running the foreign hacks for the US government, Monsegur also rolled up his own Lulzsec hacking network, which carried out s series of US hacks in a spectacular 50-day campaign, and his months if not years of cooperation with the US government may have netted him some favorable treatment.

Mazzetti’s article does not mention China; but I did!  Back in 2012!

Back on 2012 I wrote for Asia Times Online about “Hardcore Charlie”, who identified himself as an associate of Monsegur and the hacks he had inflicted on various Chinese government websites.

At the time, it seemed fishy to me that “Hardcore Charlie”—whose profanity-laced anti-imperialist Spanglish rants sounded a lot like Monsegur’s persona—had suddenly decided that the cause of liberty and lulz was best served by hacking into Chinese language websites like the Taoyuan Land Reclamation Bureau.

Concluding my piece, I wrote:

My speculation is that the campaign of cyber-attacks against Chinese targets was seeded by the US government, but has gathered its own momentum and is drawing in freelance foreign and some Chinese hackers searching for lulz – the hacker term for giggles or detached/callous amusement.

Lulzsec closed shop at the end of June 2011, when an asset in England was arrested. It appears that was not enough to elude the bloodhounds of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or forestall Monsegur’s betrayal of his associates.

Pattern-oriented readers might consider whether the sudden eruption of Lulzsec resembles the cyber flashmob that is currently swarming Chinese sites.

Contrarian readers might find it interesting that the focus of hacking seems to have done a 180-degree turn away from American government, security and corporate targets to tormenting their Chinese equivalents (despite the limited lulz obtainable when hacking a site whose language one does not understand).

Curious readers might also wonder if information from Monsegur has helped the authorities get “Hardcore Charlie” in their sights and he is hacking into Chinese websites either at their behest to help get the Anonymous China ball rolling or is pre-emptively demonstrating his utility and eagerness to please.

Compare with Mr. Mazzetti’s account:

Over several weeks in early 2012, according to the chat logs, Mr. Monsegur gave Mr. Hammond new foreign sites to penetrate. During a Jan. 23 conversation, Mr. Monsegur told Mr. Hammond he was in search of “new juicy targets,” the chat logs show. Once the websites were penetrated, according to Mr. Hammond, emails and databases were extracted and uploaded to a computer server controlled by Mr. Monsegur.

The sentencing statement also said that Mr. Monsegur directed other hackers to give him extensive amounts of data from Syrian government websites, including banks and ministries of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. “The F.B.I. took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems,” the statement said.

The court documents also refer to Mr. Monsegur’s giving targets to a Brazilian hacker. The hacker, who uses the alias Havittaja, has posted online some of his chats with Mr. Monsegur in which he was asked to attack Brazilian government websites.

One expert said that the court documents in the Hammond case were striking because they offered the most evidence to date that the F.B.I. might have been using hackers to feed information to other American intelligence agencies. “It’s not only hypocritical but troubling if indeed the F.B.I. is loaning its sting operations out to other three-letter agencies,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University and author of a forthcoming book about Anonymous.

It certainly looks like the China operation was cut from the same cloth.  The interesting question is if Monsegur eschewed a cutout and ran the China operation himself as “Hardcore Charlie”.

In the era of Snowden, it is difficult to remember, but in 2012 the United States was pre-emptively (and, in light of the already revealed Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, quite hypocritically) claiming the moral and legal high ground against Chinese hacking.  In fact, Chinese cyber misbehavior was teed up as the next existential threat to the world order.

Revelation of any US government involvement in Hardcore Charlie’s antics would be somewhat embarrassing for the Obama administration, since they involved website defacement, disabling, and public compromise of administrator account information, in other words “cyberwarfare” and not just covert information gathering.  The additional fact that the United States outsourced its cyberattack to a known criminal, who in turn may have established an independent network of hackers beyond US control, is not likely to be regarded as an extenuating circumstance.

In this context, a decision to unleash a wild hacking campaign against Chinese websites would look like a piece of questionable judgment.

Peter Lee wrote a ground-breaking essay on the exposure of sailors on board the USS Reagan to radioactive fallout from Fukushima in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He edits China Matters.

 

More articles by:

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail