The Hudson Institute, a think-tank based in Washington was forced to postpone an event featuring Guo Wengui, a Chinese tycoon, after it fell victim to a cyber attack.
Wengui is wanted in China on multiple charges including alleged kidnapping, rape and money laundering.
The Hudson Institute is a politically conservative American think tank based in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1961 in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, by futurist, military strategist, and systems theorist Herman Kahn and his colleagues at the RAND Corporation.
According to its website, the Institute is committed to innovative research and analysis that promotes "global security, prosperity and freedom. It promotes public policy change in accordance with its stated belief that "America’s unique and central role in the global system offers the best foundation for security, the defense of liberty, and assuring economic growth. It was founded by Herman Kahn.
Guo Wengui is a Chinese billionaire businessman who is currently on a self-imposed exile in New York, America. He is a real estate magnate with an estimated wealth of about US$ 38 billion. During the peak of his career, he was politically connected in China and was also the 73rd richest person in China. However, he lost his considerable influence in the country due to corruption crackdowns. Many of the officials that Wengui was reportedly close have been accused in the corruption crackdown.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping has made tackling corruption one of his main governing agendas. In 2016, the government announced that in the span of three years, one million officials had been punished for corrupt practices. Those caught in the past range from low ranking officials to top brass.
According to reports, he may have left China permanently in 2015. He has been shuttling between US and Europe in the recent years. In 2017, Wengui has become increasingly vocal about corruption within the Chinese regime. He has not provided any evidence but claims that top Chinese officials are guilty of corruption. He has specifically targeted Wang Qishan, the anti-corruption tsar in China. Qishan is often considered the second most powerful man in China after the Chinese President.
In April 2017, China issued a global "red notice" through the global police co-operation agency Interpol for Wengui’s arrest. Chinese authorities claim that Wengui has been investigated for close to 19 crimes. He has been accused of crimes as severe as kidnapping, money laundering and fraud. Reports have emerged that he is being investigated on rape charges as well. Wengui has since made his intentions clear that he is seeking political asylum in the US. Wengui is China’s highest profile fugitive. Wengui has claimed that China has sent dozens of spies to the US.
Recently there was a cyber attack on against Washington think tank called Hudson Institute that was to host an event with Wengui, as well as Clark Hill the US law firm helping him with his asylum application. The event was shortly cancelled by the think tank citing poor logistics.
According to a report in Wall Street Journal, the website of the Hudson Institute crashed shortly before it was supposed to host Wengui. It then informed Wengui that it will be postponing his planned appearance. Guo revealed that the think-tank said that this appearance was “poorly timed.” Wengui then spoke to reporters in the Washington’s National Press Club.
"You have caused quite a stir, not only in the United States but also in China," said Bill Gertz, senior editor of the Washington Free Beacon, who moderated the event.
Suspicion for the cyber attack fell on Chinese authorities who have been trying to extradite him from US. Foreign Policy magazine puts the size of China's "hacker army" at anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals. However, China has denied any role in the matter. The Chinese ministry said in a press release, “The Chinese government would like to suggest that the US law enforcement authorities supply China with the detailed information, relevant clues and evidence, so that China could assist in the investigations to identify the real source of such hacking.” It also has agreed to fully cooperate with any investigation undertaken by US authorities.
China also added, “A while ago, the Chinese authorities already informed and provided evidence to the US government, with many documents blatantly forged by Guo – including the one he displayed on October 6 – in order to mislead in favour of his political asylum case.”
Our assessment is that while it is may be quite difficult to attribute, there seems to be some indication that the attack was done at the behest of the Chinese. The incident proves that state actors could continue to use cyber as a tool of coercion and even alter the course of discussions in a US think tank. We believe that the entities based in Washington are fully mindful of the destructive capability of the Chinese hackers and prefers to avoid upsetting them. It illustrates how digital vulnerability will expose most of us to threats at an individual, enterprise and state level.