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CHINA CITED IN AU ESPIONAGE

General News

The disturbing news in town is that the African Union’s Computer network  built and paid for by the Chinese government appeared not safe, with claims that  China inserted a backdoor allowing it access to the continental organisation’s confidential information.

The disturbing news in town is that the African Union’s Computer network  built and paid for by the Chinese government appeared not safe, with claims that  China inserted a backdoor allowing it access to the continental organisation’s confidential information.

 

According to a report by the Mail and Guardian, both newspapers in the United Kingdom, in January 2017, the information technology unit at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa noticed something strange, according to a stunning investigation in French newspaper Le Monde.

“Every night, between midnight and 2am, there was a strange peak in data usage – even though the building was almost entirely empty. Upon further investigation, the technicians noticed something even stranger. That data – which included confidential information – was being sent to servers based in Shanghai,” the report stated.

The African Union’s shiny new headquarters was built and paid for by the Chinese government, as a gift to its “African friends”. But when the building was officially opened in 2012, China left a backdoor into the African Union’s computer network, allowing it to access the institution’s secrets at will.

“According to several sources within the institution, all sensitive content could be spied on by China,” wrote Le Monde, adding, “It’s a spectacular leak of data, spread from January 2012 to January 2017.”

However, the Chinese mission to the AU did not respond to Le Monde’s request for comment.

According to the Mail and Guardian, once the problem was discovered, African Union officials acted quickly to fix it.

“The organisation acquired its own servers, and began encrypting its communications. In July 2017, a team of experts from Algeria – a country with a notoriously efficient intelligence community – along with cybersecurity experts from Ethiopia combed the building from top to bottom, looking for hidden microphones and other potential weaknesses,” the newspaper report said.

China would not be the first supposedly friendly superpower to spy on the African Union. A separate investigation in December 2016, conducted by Le Monde and The Intercept, revealed that African Union officials were targeted for surveillance by British intelligence.

But the Chinese government has rejected the claims that it bugged the AU building.

According to a news item carried by Reuters, both China and the African Union have dismissed the report that Beijing had bugged the regional bloc’s headquarters, which it built and paid for in the Ethiopian capital.

French newspaper Le Monde quoted anonymous African Union sources saying that data from computers in the Chinese-built building had been transferred nightly to Chinese servers for five years.

After the hack was discovered a year ago, the building’s IT system including servers was changed, according to Le Monde. During a sweep for bugs after the discovery, microphones were also found hidden in desks and the walls, the newspaper reported.

The $200m headquarters was fully funded and built by China and opened to great fanfare in 2012. It was seen as a symbol of Beijing’s thrust for influence in Africa, and access to the continent’s natural resources.

As in the Ethiopian capital, China’s investments in road and rail infrastructure are highly visible across the continent. At a 2015 summit in South Africa, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged $60bn in aid and investment to the continent, saying it would continue to build roads, railways and ports.

Chinese and African officials who were in Addis Ababa for the bloc’s annual summit denied Le Monde’s report.

China’s ambassador to the AU, Kuang Weilin, called the article “ridiculous and preposterous” and said its publication was intended to put pressure on relations between Beijing and the continent. “China-Africa relations have brought about benefits and a lot of opportunities. Africans are happy with it. Others are not.“

Asked who he referred to, he said: “People in the west. They are not used to it and they are simply not comfortable with this.”

Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president who assumed the AU chairmanship this year, said he did not know anything about it. “But, in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here that we would not like people to know,” he said after a meeting of African heads of state.

“I don’t think spying is the speciality of the Chinese. We have spies all over the place in this world,” Kagame said. “But I will not have been worried about being spied on in this building.”

His only concern, he said, was that the AU, instead of China, should have built the headquarters.

“I would only have wished that in Africa we had got our act together earlier on. We should have been able to build our own building.”