Leaked Documents Shed New Light On China’s Sweeping Surveillance State

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Jake Smith Contributor
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A leaked trove of documents from a Chinese security firm has shed new light on Beijing’s sweeping surveillance state.

I-Soon, a Chinese private security contractor with ties to the Ministry of Public Security, had a cache of documents leaked last week that revealed a catalog of hacking and surveillance efforts against targets, The Associated Press reported on Thursday. The Chinese Communist Party has established a surveillance state to constantly track all of its citizens, and its espionage efforts reach both within the mainland and well overseas. (RELATED: Chinese Hackers Have Been Secretly Embedded In Key US Infrastructure Hubs For ‘At Least Five Years’: REPORT)

The leak was confirmed by two anonymous employees of I-Soon and independent researchers, multiple outlets reported.

“We have every reason to believe this is the authentic data of a contractor supporting global and domestic cyber espionage operations out of China,” John Hultquist, the chief analyst at Google’s Mandiant Intelligence, told The New York Times. “[I-Soon is] part of an ecosystem of contractors that has links to the Chinese patriotic hacking scene, which developed two decades ago and has since gone legit.”

Among the treasure trove of leaked documents is a list of targets for hacking and surveillance operations, including Chinese dissidents, ethnic minorities, overseas telecommunications firms, in-state gambling companies and world governments, according to the AP. The documents outline in detail how I-Soon collects data on these targets and subsequently sells it to Beijing.

I-Soon’s array of cyber tools is also used by Chinese authorities to quash opposition on social media channels by inundating them with pro-CCP content, according to the AP. Chinese authorities can take down anti-government posts from some channels, but cannot do it on X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook, platforms where dissidents usually go to avoid surveillance.

“There’s a huge interest in social media monitoring and commenting on the part of the Chinese government,” Mareike Ohlberg, senior fellow in the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund, who reviewed several leaked documents, told the AP.

I-Soon also advertised an “anti-terror” operation to Xinjiang police to track down Uyghur Muslims, a religious ethnic minority, in locations across eastern Asia, the AP reported. China is accused of committing genocide against the Uyghur population and detaining them in labor camps in Xinjiang.

It isn’t clear who is behind the leak, but it could be “a rival intelligence service, a dissatisfied insider, or even a rival contractor,” Hultquist told the AP. Chinese authorities have opened an investigation into the matter; I-Soon’s website was taken offline Tuesday, although operations appeared normal at its Chengdu subsidiary location on Wednesday.

Beijing’s espionage and hacking efforts go well the mainland into countries like the U.S., where Chinese hackers have been found breaching key infrastructure systems like water and energy plants. Other cyber efforts work to overwhelm American social media with pro-Beijing content.

It wasn’t immediately clear that I-Soon was able to successfully hack any U.S. or NATO alliance country, though that does not indicate that efforts are not underway, according to the AP.

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