China: Superpower or superposer?

Ponder this: A superhero’s nemesis is known as a super villain. So what do you call a superpower’s evil opposite?

Last week, a group of Canadian researchers released a report revealing a large-scale electronic spying operation that has collected data from numerous government offices and foreign embassies, including the office of the Dalai Lama. Dubbed GhostNet, the snooping excursion included spying on emails and pilfering documents from 1,295 computers in 103 countries since early 2007.

And what presumably powerful entity could be behind this espionage? The Canadians’ 53-page report feigns impartiality, yet presents conclusive evidence that three of the four servers behind the attacks were located within the borders of America’s potential superpower rival, China. The Chinese government has denied any involvement.

The explanation seems too easy, but that’s only because it is: China wanted to get caught.

The investigation was only able to get as much information on GhostNet as it did because the spying operation’s four data servers were insecure, accessible through a standard web interface, according to the report. Perhaps they could’ve checked the hackers’ Twitter feeds as well (“Hacking D-Lama’s computer is hard, LOL. I <3 China”).

The reason for China’s seemingly self-destructive actions should be obvious. No stranger to influencing the media, China has outed its own surveillance operation because it knew the news coverage would reaffirm it as a nation to be feared. It’s the latest in a gross display of one-upmanship that has only gotten worse since the Olympics in Beijing (congratulations on the gold medals, now please get over it), with China feeling the need to continually remind the world that it’s a potential superpower.

Well I’m sorry to ruin your fun, China, but this is a genital-flourishing contest you can’t win, so to speak. The United States government has been at the forefront of covert electronic surveillance for years, chiefly because it honed its methods on its own unsuspecting citizens. Yes, due to Section 216 of the Patriot Act, everyone knows now that the National Security Agency monitors our phone conversations and reads our emails (I preemptively send them a blind copy of all my messages). But there was a time when our government had to track its citizens’ communications without their knowledge or government-mandated consent, and working within those limits has made it strong.

I can’t reveal much, but my sources in the government have assured me that our own electronic spy operations — known internally as Covert-Systems, Undercover Knowledge, and Electronic Reconnaissance (C-SUCKER) —  have a much, much wider reach than those revealed by this report. And they certainly have more than four servers, which isn’t even enough to host the world’s least popular online roleplaying game (Last Man Alive: No Women Either), much less a sophisticated spy network.

With this knowledge, we Americans can continue to exude our privileged smugness for being the best at everything, and China can continue being a “potential” superpower, fuming quietly in our shadow. •

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