The Dalai Lama said Tuesday that regardless of who is hacking into the computers of his Tibetan government-in-exile, the stolen information appears to go straight to the Chinese government.
His comments came as authorities in Beijing denied they were masterminding a network of cyber spies, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang scoffing at the notion as a symptom of a "Cold War virus" that causes people overseas to "occasionally be overcome by China-threat seizures."
The accusations and denials followed the release of a report last week by a Canadian research group that a cyber spy network, based mainly in China, had hacked into classified documents from government and private organizations in 103 countries, including the computers of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles.
The Information Warfare Monitor said that while its analysis pointed to China as the main source of the hacking network, it had not conclusively been able to detect the identity or motivation of the hackers.
Their work initially focused on allegations of Chinese cyber espionage against the Tibetan exile community and eventually led to a much wider network of compromised machines, the group said.
In his comments, the Dalai Lama stopped short of directly blaming Beijing for the cyber assault — though a top exile official said Chinese officials were involved.
"The involvement of the Chinese authorities is quite clear for the last several years," said Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. "So whatever correspondence is there in our computer system, it reaches them and they are able to act on them," he told reporters in New Delhi.
The government-in-exile was trying to protect its computers. "But that is an expensive and difficult job," Rinpoche said.
The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, said even internal e-mails between exile offices just a couple miles (kilometers) apart in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala, were being seen in Beijing.
"My officials are surprised that even some communication from my office in upper Dharmsala to our secretariat in central Dharmsala seems to reach the Chinese hands," the Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters.
He and the government-in-exile are based in Dharmsala.
Sometimes, he added, people would e-mail his office to ask for an appointment only to find their requests read in Beijing.
"Before that particular person asks for Indian visa, the Chinese already (have) protested to the Indian government. Such things happen," he said.
But China dismissed the report Tuesday, calling it lies intended to stoke anxiety over Beijing's growing global influence.
In the government's first reaction to the report, Qin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, did not directly respond to questions about whether the network existed and if its actions were supported by the government. Instead, he said Beijing was opposed to criminal activities that compromise computer networks and attacked the report for suggesting otherwise.
"China pays great attention to computer network security and resolutely opposes and fights any criminal activity harmful to computer networks, such as hacking," Qin said. "Some people outside China now are bent on fabricating lies about so-called Chinese computer spies."
"Their attempt to tarnish China with such lies is doomed to failure," he said.
Scott Henderson, author of The Dark Visitor, a self-published book about Chinese hackers, said he thought it was feasible that the attacks described in the report could have been carried out by an individual over the course of a year or so.
Henderson said it wouldn't be unusual for a Chinese hacker to want to infiltrate the Dalai Lama's computers because most of the mainland hackers he has researched "place as much importance on sovereignty (over Tibet and other contentious areas) as Beijing does."
The Dalai Lama was in New Delhi on Tuesday to mark the 50th anniversary since he reached the Indian border after fleeing from Tibet. He fled after Beijing quashed an uprising and placed the Himalayan region under its rule. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries.