Chinese authorities have been hacking into computer systems operated by the US government and its allies since 2002, according to a leaked diplomatic correspondence.
Messages exchanged between the US embassy in Beijing and Washington DC claim that China hired computer experts to access files belonging to US government agencies, corporations and exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
The revelations emerged as part of a huge cache of classified US government documents, disseminated by whistle-blower site Wikileaks to news outlets including the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel.
In January 2010, search giant Google claimed that it and other major US companies had been the victim of a huge, orchestrated cyber attack originating from China. Google said the security breach had intended to access the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
The accusations against the Chinese government apparently came from one of the individuals responsible for that incident.
According to US Embassy officials, their Chinese contact said the Google attack was "part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government".
The unnamed source said that the Google attack was ordered after an official in the Communist Party of China’s Politburo discovered critical references to himself in Google search results.
A combination of that security breach and Chinese censorship laws caused Google to withdraw its presence from the Chinese mainland. Its Chinese operation is now based in Hong Kong, where censorship is less of an issue.