When Chinese hackers infiltrated Google's servers back in 2010, they gained access to years' worth of information on surveillance orders from the U.S. government, according to current and former government officials.
Those officials, who spoke to The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima on the condition of anonymity, say the breach was an attempt to figure out if the U.S. government was monitoring any Chinese spies working in the U.S.
When the news first surfaced in 2010, Google said hackers stole the source code behind its search engine, and targeted email accounts of activists critical of China's human rights record. Google did notify the FBI, according to The Washington Post's sources. The FBI later brought it to the attention of President Barack Obama.
However, Google failed to mention what could have been the true intentions of the hackers. The breached database included information on who the government was legally monitoring by tracking emails and such. The most sensitive orders came from a federal court that approves surveillance of spies, diplomats, suspected terrorists, and other "foreign targets."
Knowing who was under surveillance "allows them to take steps to destroy information, get people out of the country,” a former government official told The Washington Post.
Still, it's not clear how much the hackers actually uncovered.
The U.S. government says that the Chinese have stolen loads of data from companies in the defense, technology, aerospace, and oil and gas sectors . But officials from China deny hacking into any U.S. computer systems.
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