NEWS

China Denies It Stole British Official's BlackBerry

By Matthew Harwood

The Chinese government has denied it stole the BlackBerry of an aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a trip to Shanghai in January.

According to the Telegraph, the Blackberry was swiped by an alleged female Chinese intelligence agent who came on to the British official at a nightclub.  He took  the woman home, ignorant of her true identity, and when he woke up in the morning, his Blackberry was gone.

The Times (of London), which broke the story, reported on Sunday:

A senior official said yesterday that the incident had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap by Chinese intelligence. The incident will raise fresh questions about the security of sensitive official information .... BlackBerrys are used as mobile telephones and also store data and send and receive e-mails. Downing Street BlackBerrys are password-protected but security officials said most are not encrypted.

China has denied the allegations.  "The relevant report is purely out of thin air, and we hope there would not be such an irresponsible report in the future," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao in a press release.

Prime Minister Brown's office, according to Chinaveiw.cn, has denied the aide got entangled in a "honeytrap," clarifying in a statement that he lost the BlackBerry at an "evening event." The statement further noted that the loss " was reported immediately and mitigation measures were put in place - an investigation has subsequently taken place. There was no compromise to security."

Further downplaying the event, the British government says officials traveling to China know not to bring along any sensitive information with them because of China's supposed penchant for gathering intelligence on its adversaries.

Whether the diplomat had his BlackBerry stolen or simply lost it, this is one more incident in a long line of security breaches involving British government officials. In June, the British government had three security breaches in one week as two laptops containing sensitive information on terrorist organizations were left on commuter trains in separate incidents and disappeared. In the third incident, a computer hard drive was stolen from a government department.

Over the past few years, according to the Telegraph, more than 1,000 laptop computers have been lost or stolen from government departments.

The incident also stokes mounting concerns that the Chinese government will use the upcoming Olympics as a way to steal as much sensitive information from travelers as possible. Last week, reports the Times, U.S. intelligence officials were discussing whether to issue a warning to businessmen and other travelers taking in the Beijing Olympic Games to beware of Chinese hackers.

“So many people are going to the Olympics and are going to get electronically undressed," the paper quotes Joel Brenner, the U.S.'s top counterintelligence official as saying.

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