Saturday, April 28, 2012

When Mao's train was bugged

According to The New York Times and several other newspapers, Bo Xilai was sacked because he taped the conversations of senior Party leaders, including President Hu Jintao.
Did Bo Xilai spied on Vice-President Xi Jinping’s when the latter paid a brief visit to Chongqing in December 20120?
We will probably never know.
In any case, bugging is not something new in China.
Dr Li Zhisui, Mao's Private Physician reported in his book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao that it happened to the Great Helmsman in 1961.

Extracts from The Private Life of Chairman Mao:
After a few days in Hangzhou, we headed west by train toward Wuhan, stopping briefly so Mao could meet with Zhang Pinghua, Hunan's first party secretary.
The meeting took place on the train, and Mao was late.
He was lingering in his compartment with the female teacher while Zhang and his deputy, Wang Yanchun, waited in the adjacent reception car. Wang was so rooted in his peasant ways that he squatted rather than sit on the sofa. When Mao finally emerged, I joined the teacher and several of his other female companions for astroll outside the train. The young technician responsible for secretly recording Mao's conversations, joined us in our meanderings.
"I heard you talking today," the young technician suddenly said to the teacher, interrupting our idle chatter.
"What do you mean you heard me talking?" she responded.
"Talking about what?"
"When the Chairman was getting ready to meet Zhang Pinghua. You told him to hurry up and put on his clothes."
The young woman blanched. "What else did you hear?" she asked quietly.
"I heard everything," he answered, teasing.
The woman was stunned. She turned and bolted for the train as the rest of us followed quickly behind. The other women were also distressed. If he had heard one conversation with Mao, surely he had heard others as well.
Mao's meetings were concluding as we returned to the train, and the teacher went immediately to his compartment, demanding to speak with him. She reported the entire conversation with the technician.
Mao was livid. He had never suspected the bugging. The revelation came as a shock. He called Wang Dongxing [Head of the Bodyguard Regiment] into his compartment, where the two stayed behind closed doors in intense conversation for an hour. Wang, so recently returned from exile, said he did not know about the bugging devices, either. When he emerged from the meeting, he ordered the train to proceed immediately, at top speed, to Wuhan.
As the train sped north, Wang called the technician and Mao's confidential secretary to meet with him, informing them that the Chairman wanted to know who had ordered the bugging. Wang claimed that since this was the first trip he had taken with the Chairman since his return, he simply took all the staff members who ordinarily accompanied the Chairman, including the recording technician. Wang began interrogating the young men and told the technician that Mao had ordered his arrest.
But Wang did not arrest the technician. "You have no place to ron," he told him. But he demanded to know who had ordered the bugging. ,
The confidential secretary pleaded ignorance. He said the bugging had started when Ye Zilong was in charge. Ye was the man to consult. But Ye was away doing labor reform. .
The technician also claimed not to know. He was just doing his job, he said, acting under orders from "the leadership”.
"And did the leadership order you to record the Chairman's private conversations, too?" Wang Dongxing demanded, glaring at the young technician. "Don't you have anything better to do? Why were you looking for trouble? Why didn't you tell Chairman you wanted to record his talks? You recorded all sorts of things you never should have. What am I supposed to tell Chairman?"
The young man was speechless.
By the time our train reached Wuhan and we had settled into the Plum Garden guesthouse, it was four o'clock in the morning. Wang Dongxing roused a local electrician and went immediately to remove all the bugging equipment from the train. I went to bed.
When I woke that afternoon, the bugging equipment — recording machines and tapes, speakers and wires — had been put on display in the conference room, and the staff was gathered around examining the paraphernalia. The Plum Garden guesthouse had also been bugged, and that equipment was on display, too. Mao ordered photographs taken as evidence, with Wang Dongxing, Kang Yimin, the secretary and the technician standing behind the table.
Kang Yimin, the deputy director of the Office of Confidential Secretaries who had worked just under Ye Zilong, had come from the General Office in Zhongnanhai [in Beijing] to discuss the matter with Wang Dongxing. Kang was a simple, honest, but uneducated man, and he and Wang quickly came to blows. Kang knew that the real decision to record the Chairman's conversations had come from higher up than Ye Zilong. Bugging the Chairman was far too serious a matter to be decided by Ye. Why they-or l-ever thought it could be gotten away with, I will never understand.
Confronted with Mao's discovery and not wanting to bring unknown higher levels into the dispute, Kang wanted Wang Dongxing to find some convincing way to explain the whole thing away. But Wang was determined to find out where the order had originated. Mao wanted an investigation, and Wang Dongxing was determined to conduct it.
In the end, though, the two men compromised. Wang Dongxing agreed to tell Mao that the bugging had been ordered to provide material for a party history.
Mao was infuriated. "So they're already compiling a black report against me, like Khrushchev?" he bellowed. A "party history" based on bugging his private conversations could only be used against him, and nothing bothered him more than ~he possibility of the type of attack Khrushchev had launched against Stalin. The attack against Stalin had also been full of damaging personal detail, and Mao did not want the details of his own personal life recorded on tape.
But it was not these revelations he most feared. His private life was an open secret among the party elite. His greatest fear was the potential threat to his power. Mao's frequent travel to other parts of China, where he met alone with local leaders, was part of his political strategy, a tactic designed to leap over the cumbersome bureaucratic machinery of the party and state and to maintain direct contact with local-level leaders. He did not want the central authority to know what he said to the provincial and local-level leaders. His role as the source of all policy would be diminished were representatives to carry his words back to Beijing, where central leaders could devise policy based on his conversations outside the capital. Mao wanted the central authorities to be more directly dependent on and loyal to him. If they knew what he said when traveling, they could pay lip service to their loyalty without having to be dependent. That was what he was trying to avoid.
He ordered Wang Dongxing to burn the tapes immediately. "Don't leave a single one," he commanded. "I don't want them providing material for any black report." Faced with Mao's fury, the technician confessed that other places, including the guesthouse in Hangzhou that we had just left, were also bugged. Mao ordered Wang to dispatch a team to remove that equipment and destroy those tapes, too.
Several people lost their jobs as a result of the incident. Ye Zilong's lieutenant Kany Yimin and Mao's confidential secretary were both fired. Kang went to work in the People's Bank. The latter was transferred to the Second Ministry of Machine Building and was replaced by Xu Yefu, the confidential secretary who had earlier lost his job when he talked openly about Li Yinqiao's accusation that Jiang Qing was running away to Hangzhou to avoid being criticized. The witless technician whose teasing of Mao's girlfriend had precipitated the discovery, was sent to Shaanxi for labor reform.
Mao never believed that the underlings who lost their jobs in 1961 were the real culprits. "They don't understand what this is all about," he said. "They don't know anything."
Mao, like Kang Yimin, believed that the orders to listen in on his conversations could have come only from leaders at the highest level. The Ministry of Public Security would have to be involved, too. Mao was convinced that they had been spying on him as part of a plot. His growing belief that there was a conspiracy against him within the highest ranks of the party dates from here. The differences between Mao and the other party leaders were still hidden, but the rift that would explode with the Cultural Revolution was quietly widening. Mao was biding his time.

Ousted Chinese Leader Is Said to Have Spied on Other Top Officials
The New York Times
April 25, 2012
BEIJING — When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped — by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.
The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai, in a political cataclysm that has yet to reach a conclusion.
Until now, the downfall of Mr. Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute. But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr. Bo.
The story of how China’s president was monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state. To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another — repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule.
“This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”
Nearly a dozen people with party ties, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, confirmed the wiretapping, as well as a widespread program of bugging across Chongqing. But the party’s public version of Mr. Bo’s fall omits it.
The official narrative and much foreign attention has focused on the more easily grasped death of Mr. Heywood in November. When Mr. Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, was stripped of his job and feared being implicated in Bo family affairs, he fled to the United States Consulate in Chengdu, where he spoke mostly about Mr. Heywood’s death.
The murder account is pivotal to the scandal, providing Mr. Bo’s opponents with an unassailable reason to have him removed. But party insiders say the wiretapping was seen as a direct challenge to central authorities. It revealed to them just how far Mr. Bo, who is now being investigated for serious disciplinary violations, was prepared to go in his efforts to grasp greater power in China. That compounded suspicions that Mr. Bo could not be trusted with a top slot in the party, which is due to reshuffle its senior leadership positions this fall.
“Everyone across China is improving their systems for the purposes of maintaining stability,” said one official with a central government media outlet, referring to surveillance tactics. “But not everyone dares to monitor party central leaders.”
According to senior party members, including editors, academics and people with ties to the military, Mr. Bo’s eavesdropping operations began several years ago as part of a state-financed surveillance buildup, ostensibly for the purposes of fighting crime and maintaining local political stability.
The architect was Mr. Wang, a nationally decorated crime fighter who had worked under Mr. Bo in the northeast province of Liaoning. Together they installed “a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the Internet,” according to the government media official.
One of several noted cybersecurity experts they enlisted was Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, who is often called the father of China’s “Great Firewall,” the nation’s vast Internet censorship system. Most recently, Mr. Fang advised the city on a new police information center using cloud-based computing, according to state news media reports. Late last year, Mr. Wang was named a visiting professor at Mr. Fang’s university.
Together, Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang unleashed a drive to smash what they said were crime rings that controlled large portions of Chongqing’s economic life. In interviews, targets of the crackdown marveled at the scale and determination with which local police intercepted their communications.
“On the phone, we dared not mention Bo Xilai or Wang Lijun,” said Li Jun, a fugitive property developer who now lives in hiding abroad. Instead, he and fellow businessmen took to scribbling notes, removing their cellphone batteries and stocking up on unregistered SIM cards to thwart surveillance as the crackdown mounted, he said.
Li Zhuang, a lawyer from a powerfully connected Beijing law firm, recalled how some cousins of one client had presented him with a full stack of unregistered mobile phone SIM cards, warning him of local wiretapping. Despite these precautions, the Chongqing police ended up arresting Mr. Li on the outskirts of Beijing, about 900 miles away, after he called his client’s wife and arranged to visit her later that day at a hospital.
“They already were there lying in ambush,” Mr. Li said. He added that Wang Lijun, by reputation, was a “tapping freak.”
Political figures were targeted in addition to those suspected of being mobsters.
One political analyst with senior-level ties, citing information obtained from a colonel he recently dined with, said Mr. Bo had tried to tap the phones of virtually all high-ranking leaders who visited Chongqing in recent years, including Zhou Yongkang, the law-and-order czar who was said to have backed Mr. Bo as his potential successor.
“Bo wanted to be extremely clear about what leaders’ attitudes toward him were,” the analyst said.
In one other instance last year, two journalists said, operatives were caught intercepting a conversation between the office of Mr. Hu and Liu Guanglei, a top party law-and-order official whom Mr. Wang had replaced as police chief. Mr. Liu once served under Mr. Hu in the 1980s in Guizhou Province.
Perhaps more worrisome to Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang, however, was the increased scrutiny from the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which by the beginning of 2012 had stationed up to four separate teams in Chongqing, two undercover, according to the political analyst, who cited Discipline Inspection sources. One line of inquiry, according to several party academics, involved Mr. Wang’s possible role in a police bribery case that unfolded last year in a Liaoning city where he once was police chief.
Beyond making a routine inspection, it is not clear why the disciplinary official who telephoned Mr. Hu — Ma Wen, the minister of supervision — was in Chongqing. Her high-security land link to Mr. Hu from the state guesthouse in Chongqing was monitored on Mr. Bo’s orders. The topic of the call is unknown but was probably not vital. Most phones are so unsafe that important information is often conveyed only in person or in writing.
But Beijing was galled that Mr. Bo would wiretap Mr. Hu, whether intentionally or not, and turned central security and disciplinary investigators loose on his police chief, who bore the brunt of the scrutiny over the next couple of months.
“Bo wanted to push the responsibility onto Wang,” one senior party editor said. “Wang couldn’t dare say it was Bo’s doing.”
Yet at some point well before fleeing Chongqing, Mr. Wang filed a pair of complaints to the inspection commission, the first anonymously and the second under his own name, according to a party academic with ties to Mr. Bo.
Both complaints said Mr. Bo had “opposed party central” authorities, including ordering the wiretapping of central leaders. The requests to investigate Mr. Bo were turned down at the time. Mr. Bo, who learned of the charges at a later point, told the academic shortly before his dismissal that he thought he could withstand Mr. Wang’s charges.
Mr. Wang is not believed to have discussed wiretapping at the United States Consulate. Instead, he focused on the less self-incriminating allegations of Mr. Bo’s wife’s arranging the killing of Mr. Heywood.
But tensions between the two men crested, sources said, when Mr. Bo found that Mr. Wang had also wiretapped him and his wife. After Mr. Wang was arrested in February, Mr. Bo detained Mr. Wang’s wiretapping specialist from Liaoning, a district police chief named Wang Pengfei.
Internal party accounts suggest that the party views the wiretapping as one of Mr. Bo’s most serious crimes. One preliminary indictment in mid-March accused Bo of damaging party unity by collecting evidence on other leaders.
Party officials, however, say it would be far too damaging to make the wiretapping public. When Mr. Bo is finally charged, wiretapping is not expected to be mentioned. “The things that can be publicized are the economic problems and the killing,” according to the senior official at the government media outlet. “That’s enough to decide the matter in public.”
Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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