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Chinese Blind Spot

4:00 PM, Mar 22, 2012 • By ETHAN GUTMANN
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Investigating Chinese surveillance is a rather lonely job. For all the dissidents yammering about dramatic arrests and torture and harvesting of organs, you can’t really guarantee publication or much of an audience unless you can prove that there are links to America: brand name corporations, scary cutting-edge U.S. technology, insidious Washington collusion. That’s the trifecta—and, now, if you could somehow squeeze the elections in there somehow…

Photo of Chinese Flag with surgical stitches in it


Last Friday, it looked like the New York Times had what the English bookies call a quadpot“Firm Romney Founded Is Tied to Chinese Surveillance,” the headline beckoned, and the household name part checks out. Bain Capital, specifically the Bain Capital Asia Fund, purchased the video surveillance division of Uniview Technologies, which is supplying the usual cocktail of cameras with a central surveillance collection point. They will be aimed into what the Chinese consider to be public places—you know, universities, mosques, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and the like.

Powerful charges. And yet, as the article ultimately makes clear, the Romney family’s100 to 250k investment in the Bain Capital Asia fund that purchased Uniview results from a blind trust in the name of Ann Romney and, according to the Romney’s trust manager, Mitt and Ann actually have no control over those investments. As has been widely reported, Romney actually left Bain Capital some time ago. A further problem for the narrative was reported on the Washington Post’s blog: The Heinz family trust, that is, John Kerry’s wife, actually has a 500 to 1,000k investment in the Bain Capital Asia Fund, and one suspects that, even if Mr. Kerry has no financial connection with his wife as his spokeswoman seemed to claim, Teresa Heinz Kerry could manage the investment a little differently. But the Times piles on. Isn’t Bain Capital helping to finance Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future? And Bain Capital employees give lots of political donations to Romney (although, as the Times mentions: “Bain employees have also made substantial contributions to Democratic candidates, including President Obama.”)

Well yes, and that’s the trouble with playing this particular game. Head on over to and let’s look at the contributions coming from, say, Cisco Systems. John Chambers was co-chair of McCain’s 2008 bid, but since he and all the major Silicon Valley execs attended the “world’s richest dinner party” with Obama last year Chambers’s contributions seem to be going the other way these days. The rest of Cisco?  Over 3 to 1 employee contributions in favor of Obama over Romney with Mark Chandler, Cisco’s legal counsel, shelling out an additional $25,000 for the DNC Services Corporation.

Cisco is fighting off legal actions led by human rights foundations that claim Cisco supplied critical components of China’s first real Internet surveillance system under a contract with the Public Security Bureau. That system, sometimes called Policenet, was used to hunt down dissidents of all stripes. Many were killed (actually over 65,000 by my estimate). So are Cisco execs making contributions to Obama because the administration could sway the legal situation somehow? Perhaps. Or perhaps the majority of employees at Cisco just tend to be sort of liberal. And perhaps Bain Capital execs might have sentimental or even idealistic reasons to support Romney.

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