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Google contemplates being slightly less evil

"Imperialism and all reactionaries are paper tigers." c. 1965 (Source: Stefan Landsberger)

After four years of materially aiding the PRC government in its quest to divert Chinese web surfers away from dissident online content, Google has belatedly executed an about-face.

The change in attitude comes after the company’s Gmail service was subject to cyber attacks which targeted the accounts of human-rights activists around the globe.  In retaliation, Google has said it will relax its censorship regime and contemplate closing its Chinese subsidiary.

These are, in the main, good things—although even the not-very-bright could have foreseen no small amount of inevitable unpleasantness when dealing with the autocrats of Communist China.  But despite all the hoopla I do not expect Google to exit the Chinese market, even though Google is a mere bit-player in China (an also-ran next to homegrown services like Baidu and Sina).  The company’s revenues in China are estimated to be on the order of $400 million; by leaving now they would effectively cede the field—and long-term growth potential—to competitors.  As Google has already demonstrated an inconsistency with its corporate ethics while setting up its Chinese operations, I do not expect its late discovery of a spine to make much difference.

I rather expect the Chinese government will find an appropriate scapegoat; some general or senior bureaucrat who was “overzealous” in pursuit of public security.  That official and some of his underlings will be cashiered and disgraced.  The PRC will agree to a minor lessening of the censorship regime, which it will disingenuously revoke later when the furor has died down; Google gets to look like a champion of human rights, the PRC gets to look like it is making some progress on liberalising itself.  Google and the PRC will pronounce themselves satisfied—if not amicable—and business will go on as usual.

But it was intoxicating to think for a few brief hours that they might actually do the right thing, and refuse to play ball with the tyrants in Peking.

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Our fascist friends across the sea


….have just copied several terabytes of avionics and design data for the F-35 Lightning II.

WASHINGTON — Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project — the Defense Department’s costliest weapons program ever — according to current and former government officials familiar with the attacks.

Similar incidents have also breached the Air Force’s air-traffic-control system in recent months, these people say. In the case of the fighter-jet program, the intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems, officials say, potentially making it easier to defend against the craft.

The latest intrusions provide new evidence that a battle is heating up between the U.S. and potential adversaries over the data networks that tie the world together. The revelations follow a recent Wall Street Journal report that computers used to control the U.S. electrical-distribution system, as well as other infrastructure, have also been infiltrated by spies abroad.

— Siobhan Gorman, August Cole and Yochi Dreazen.  “Computer Spies Breach Fighter-Jet Project“, Wall Street Journal, April 21st, 2009.

So let’s see, China has stolen data on every nuclear warhead in the US inventory, the space shuttle, the C-17, and Delta IV medium/heavy-lift booster.  But don’t worry, our geopolitical geniuses assure us China doesn’t actually mean us any harm.  Because they hold a lot of U.S. dollars.  And aren’t at all working to undermine it as the world’s most popular reserve currency.

Might as well send them the dirt on F-22 thrust-vectoring and supercruise now, along with its ISR systems.  If they are going to rip off all of our good ideas they may as well make one really kick-ass fighter out of elements from both systems.  And then sell it for about one-quarter of JSF’s cost to other “good friends” like Iran and North Korea.

UPDATE: Lockheed says nuh-uh, nobody got their mitts on any secret F-35 goodies.

“We believe the article in Wall Street Journal was incorrect in its representation of successful cyber attacks on the F-35 program,” Lockheed spokeswoman Cheryl Amerine said in an e-mail. “To our knowledge there has never been any classified information breach. Like the government, we have attacks on our systems continually and have stringent measures in place to both detect and stop attacks.”

— Edmond Lococo and Tony Capaccio. “Lockheed Says F-35 Security Hasn’t Been Breached“, Bloomberg.com, April 21st, 2009.

Image: PLAAF propaganda, 1964.  Text reads “It doesn’t matter whether enemy airlpanes come in broad daylight, or the dark of night, from high or from low, all must be destroyed!”  Source: Stefan Landsberger’s Chinese Propaganda Poster pages.