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Inside the Ring: Beijing coup rumors

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Gen. Norton Schwartz

U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring China’s Internet say that from March 14 to Wednesday bloggers circulated alarming reports of tanks entering Beijing and shots being fired in the city as part of what is said to have been a high-level political battle among party leaders - and even a possible military coup.

The Internet discussions included photos posted online of tanks and other military vehicles moving around Beijing.

The reports followed the ouster last week of senior Politburo member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, who was linked to corruption, but who is said to remain close to China’s increasingly nationalistic military.

Chinese microblogging sites Sina Weibo, QQ Weibo, and the bulletin board of the search engine Baidu all reported “abnormalities” in Beijing on the night of March 19.

The comments included rumors of the downfall of the Shanghai leadership faction and a possible “military coup,” along with reports of gunfire on Beijing’s Changan Street. The reports were quickly removed by Chinese censors shortly after postings and could no longer be accessed by Wednesday.

The unusual postings included reports that military vehicles were sent to control Changan Street, along with plainclothes police officers and metal barriers.

Another posting quoted internal sources as saying senior Communist Party leaders are divided over the ouster of Mr. Bo. The divide was said to pit Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and against party security forces and Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang.

Late Wednesday, another alarming indicator came when Beijing authorities ordered all levels of public-security and internal-security forces under Mr. Zhou to conduct nationwide study sessions, although Mr. Zhou’s name was not on the order - a sign his future may be in doubt.

Additional references on Chinese social media included vague mention of high-level party political struggles and related police activity in Beijing.

One posting referred to a mysterious atmosphere in Beijing and a reported shooting Tuesday night. The posting was quickly censored by authorities.

PENTAGON CYBERSECURITY LACKING

A defense official told Congress this week that Pentagon security efforts against hackers and other threats remain weak.

Kaigham J. Gabriel, acting director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told a Senate hearing Tuesday that the Pentagon is “capability-limited in cyber, both defensively and offensively.”

“We need to change that,” Mr. Gabriel said.

He noted that most details of cybersecurity threats and efforts to counter them can only be disclosed at the “special-access level,” the most secret security classification.

However, in both public and prepared statements to the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats, Mr. Gabriel issued unusually blunt criticism of Pentagon cyberwarfare programs, both offensive and defensive.

As for cyberdefenses, Mr. Gabriel revealed that “attackers can penetrate our networks.”

“In just 3 days and at a cost of only $18,000, the Host-Based Security System was penetrated,” he said.

Also, password security remains a “weak link.” For example, in security tests, 53,000 passwords were given to simulated hackers and, within 48 hours, 38,000 passwords were cracked.

Also, the defense supply chain is “at risk,” Mr. Gabriel said.

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About the Author

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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