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State Department Breaks Silence on Hacker Attack

Cyber assaults like one against Change.org at "top tier of foreign policy"

In its first statement on the cyber attacks this month against San Francisco startup Change.org, the State Department said Friday that it regards defending against such activities as part of the "top tier of American foreign policy."

The statement did not directly refer to Change.org or China, where the website believes the attacks originated. Company officials have said the FBI is investigating the incident, which shut down Change.org for more than 12 hours when they began April 18. The attacks have continued this week. 

In an e-mailed statement, Andrew J. Laine, a State Department spokesman said, "Secretary Clinton has been a leading voice for Internet freedom around the world, and has elevated the issue to the top tier of American foreign policy."

He continued: "The State Department condemns all cyber attacks designed to stifle free speech on the Internet, including via 'distributed denial of service,' or DDOS."

Company executives say hackers targeted the site because it hosts an online petition calling on China to release Ai Weiwei, the dissident Chinese artist who has been in custody in Beijing since April 3. 

Ben Rattray, a Change.org co-founder, urged Clinton to specifically condemn the attacks on Change.org and "stand with Ai Weiwei."

"This shows how seriously the State Department is taking the attack on Change.org," said Rattray. "Americans should be allowed to freely organize online without foreign interference. "

The State Department's comments come four days after Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, sent a letter to Clinton urging her to denounce the attacks and to call on China to find and prosecute the hackers. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco announced her support for DeLauro's letter this week.

The Chinese government has denied any knowledge or connection to the attacks.

"DDOS attacks like the one Change.org experienced are an increasingly common form of online disruption," Laine wrote. "As a part of the State Department’s Internet freedom initiative, we support efforts to help protect groups and individuals from these cyber attacks."

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the State Department elevated the cyber attacks on Change.org to the "top tier of American foreign policy." Officials have since clarified that the statement referred to internet freedoms generally, and not this specific attack.

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