China: Hack into Freedom City

For China's Astro Boy generation, a house arrested blogger like Zeng Jinyan could be most clearly viewed as one node in a network system needing to be re-established as quickly as possible. This seems to be at least partly the case in ‘Hack into Freedom City’, a manual being P2Ped around the blogsphere which explains one procedure used to hack through the surveillance system state security agents have set up surrounding Zeng's home in building #76 in the BOBO Freedom City housing complex in eastern Beijing's Tongzhou district, or +39° 54′ 23.40″, +116° 41′ 22.20″.



A Professionally Executed Milk Powder Delivery

Author's hash: “L0yjzB+Q36etEUv30ZyP+A==”

Declaration: As the creator of this work, I dedicate the work and all related rights to the public domain. This applies worldwide. I hereby bestow the rights of use for this work to any person for any purpose.

Someone made the call for a group milk powder deliver on January 20, but I'd previously booked a train ticket for that day, and couldn't go. After I'd made the trip, I saw the reports and posts from “Rushing Freedom City”; many people had gone, but not one had succeeded. That didn't seem right to me, so I decided that upon returning to Beijing, I'd give it one more try.

The delivering of milk powder by no means achieves any sort of propaganda purpose, nor will it become any sort of noble symbol; delivering milk powder is just the goal. So, the means are many, and anything goes. The milk powder delivery method written of in “Rushing Freedom City” reads like a citizen storming straight into a trap; as brave and praiseworthy as it is, it's not the approach for me. I remember once being told that even though losing your head and shedding blood sounds quite heroic, it's just not something worth losing a head or spilling blood for. So I had to think this action through. The opponents are security agency professionals, so I must be sufficiently prepared.


Action Objectives
a. Primary objective:
Deliver milk powder

b. Secondary objective:
Transmit information

Conditions of defeat:
-get intercepted or captured
-have true identity exposed


1. Investigation

Terrain. First I looked carefully at the Flickr photos somebody shot in stealth at BOBO Freedom City on the 20th, their Google Map, and Prisoners in Freedom City on YouTube, to get familiar with the terrain. I noticed a problem: “Anyone who tries to go in through the entrance will immediately be in plain sight of the police.” This reflects a fixed way of thinking; is there only one way in?

Movement of the State Security Police. “Prisoners in Freedom City” reveals several important details: the SSP change shifts at 8am; someone brings their lunches at 11:30; the “designated” car “alloted” to Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan might be the white Hyundai Sonata “京F B8233″, the silver Mazda “京F E6034″, or the the black Hyundai “京E E7704″. But even if those are their license plate numbers, the security agency definitely isn't that simple; for the plates used earlier to be different from the ones used now would be quite normal. So I have to remember all the features: color, model. And the 8am shift change could very well present a loophole; if so, it can be used to sneak in. Thus at the entrance there is only a passive defense, with function limited to blocking particular individuals.

Level of surveillance. On September 18, 2007, while under SSP surveillance, there were actually robberies which took place in towers 76 and 77, ample indication that the surveillance is limited. However, on the Google map there can still be seen sufficient personnel for effective defense in the perimeter surveillance. “Prisoners in Freedom City” shows several SSP blocking the entrance to the residential unit for long periods of time, and the topography shows the unit's entrance to be quite narrow, that the view is very narrow, non-conducive to surveillance. Yet, there may also be SSP beyond the enclosure, which would suggest deployment of defense in depth.



Date. The choice of date is also very important; prior to the Lunar New Year there has clearly been an increase in police presence for tighter defense, and during the festival people on holiday might come, so there will be no relaxation, making defence in the period following Lunar New Year, whether in numbers of personnel or their psychological state, at its most lax.




2. Preparation:

Luckily, just prior to this I had finished reading The Gulag Archipelago, so I was mentally prepared for the conditions inside an institution. However, this was still not enough, so I did a crash course in learning some criminal procedure law and investigation and interrogation methodology. Aside from that, my head was full of the first-person shooters in Delta Force and Counter-Strike—so I was thinking of what was needed for a military operation.




As you are about to expend a significant effort in the invasion, the greater the return the better. So in addition to delivering the milk powder, relaying information is just as important. Preparations needed to be made:

Several copies of that day's newspaper, printouts regarding Zeng Jinyan's blog tucked inside, and copies of those printouts saved on a memory card; prepare two digital camera memory cards, one with sensitive content to be kept hidden in your sock at all times; a mobile phone—buy a new number; do not carelessly leave fingerprints behind—wear gloves; food, water, sheets of paper, a felt marker, binoculars, mobile phone battery, batter recharger, money, toilet paper, batteries; no ID whatsoever must be carried; a topographical map and the SSP license plate numbers marked down in a notebook; a fake name—choose characters homophonic to your name (this may not be of use); check keychain for any identifying markers; last, milk powder. Carry all this in a backpack, although be sure to note the necessity of keeping the bag as separate from your person to the greatest extent possible (SSP will wonder: ‘what's a resident doing toting around a backpack? What's stored in there?’).



3. Execution:

3.1 Day one, dusk

Too lazy to go over the route one more time, I follow the route suggested in “Rushing Freedom City”: “get off at Sihui Stn. and take bus #322″ to Dongguan Bridge”. At time of arrival it is already evening.

3.2 Day one, evening

The highway along Freedom City's northeast side heads southwest, but unsure whether surveillance of the outer perimeter had been removed, I didn't dare turn around. I hurried to the woods across the street and from there used the binoculars to scope things out, but was still unable to determine if perimeter surveillance was still in place. What was surprising was that the plants seen on the south side of the compound in “Prisoners in Freedom City” had all been cleared away, leaving only bald earth and a warning sign on which was written “entry to cars and non-staff not permitted”, making concealment at this point difficult. However, streetlights along the recently-renovated road on the compound's south side were very bright, so the barren dirt area, with no lights, was pitch dark. Lights inside the compound were quite weak, and I think it could not have been easy to notice me (wearing a black shirt, black pants and a black hat as I was).




There were police cars doing a routine patrol of the perimeter, and I was able to see that one would appear every few minutes. This wasn't much of a problem, the police car is only there as a deterrent, and not for guarding the target of this clear-cut action.

Hiding behind the fence on the southeast side of the compound, I squatted and advanced along the fence toward the northeast, hoping to survey the terrain at close-range. From beside the boiler room I see a boiler worker come out and use a pole stuck horizontally through the fence to jump over and get to the house on the other side, despite that there's a thermal imaging surveillance camera on the corner of the fence, although it seems that such a huge heat source as the boiler room interferes, and boiler workers jump back and forth anytime without setting off the security system alarm. That this is just after the robberies took place suggests that the compound's security system is in fact quite weak, further reinforcing my previous estimation of the simplicity that would be required to get over the wall. What did make me nervous were the cars which kept driving by, the license plates of most of which could not be seen clearly, making it impossible to determine if they were SPP cars on routine patrol. All I could do when cars passed by was duck my head down. It got tense when a car slowly drove over, passed where I was hiding, and stopped, then backed up as though it were trying to get a better look of what was there. With my skin creeping, I almost stuck my head to the ground, thinking ‘come on, I can't fail before I've even begun’ as I waited for the sound of footsteps to come my way, sitting and waiting for the authorities’ next move—but the footsteps didn't come, it was just a car that had stopped here where I was hiding, right next to a parking spot. The next few minutes after that spent scouting the perimeter were quite nerve-wracking: a black sedan kept driving slowly along the highway on the south side and stopping for no evident reason; two new police patrol cars suddenly appeared, with four people seated in each. I kept seeing things popping out of the shadows, but when it got too bad, I decided I was just being overly suspicious. At first, my thoughts were the same as those described in “Rushing”: “I was extra careful, doing my best to look perfectly composed, like I was a homeowner here. Once I got in through the main gate, tower 70 was on my right, so I deliberately turned left, and circled all the way to the back of the building,” when in fact nobody was paying attention to what I was doing. Not just that, I was sure I was starting to look like a thief, only, the only ones there doing anything wrong were the SSP; I was just there to do good. Now that I think about it, these were just the values of right and wrong that I'd long been indoctrinated with. So I stood up.

I wasn't very sure right away of the target unit's location. Once that was established, I then made the further mistake of thinking the building's front door was made from opaque glass. I saw that the unit's front door was closed, which was appropriate, it being cold outside; the SSP would have closed it to keep the heat in. Walking back and forth across the barren ground, observing through the binoculars, it was at this time that one SSP agent came out and looked around, and then looked right toward me. Of course, with the bright street lamps behind me as background, I doubt he saw much at all, though it did seem like he was staring straight my way. A pedestrian walked by, and I took off—not about to get into any police cars tonight.


I walked across the highway and ducked behind the transformer box to examine the picture of the target unit; seeing how laid-back the SSP look, moving around from time-to-time, I too began to relax. Who's got the real freedom? Them, stuck here all year round? Their police dogs with shackles around their necks, pulled around on leashes? Or the prisoners constrained by the police dogs’ growls? During this time a group of people had run over to the piece of barren land to put off some firecrackers, and they all appear in good spirits. Along the south side runs a stretch of railway, and trains frequently pass by; the passengers in the cars have no idea just what sort of place and situation it is they're zipping through. There are also freight cars, and around this time it's probably coal they're shipping. Trains and railways, they're like the physical layer of the information age. It's a cloudless night, I see the Big Dipper, the North Star, and I don't recognize the rest. Occasionally an airliner with lights blinking moves slowly from one far corner to the other, and there's also the roar of unseen non-commercial jets speeding overhead. Aside from these, there are no other sounds.

The SSPs’ lights go out at around 1 am, but who knows if they sleep or not. I walk down the highway, and enter the compound behind the boiler room. I spend a long time observing, but I don't see any security cameras, and even if there are, it can't be many. I'm used to staying up all night, but doubt the SSP could hack it. Then I walk to the parking lot on the southeast side of building 76, and take a picture of the number for a keepsake.

But the SSP have moved inside the unit. Even if I were to jump over the fence (the short fence in front of the unit), I still wouldn't be able to enter without making a sound and getting caught. A direct breakthrough seems difficult, so I decide to wait until the morning shift change on day two to look for loopholes. I move to the back of the building, and see that residents on the ground floor have doors which connect directly to the garden, so I duck to the bottom one resident's stairwell and wait until a light comes on, then I knock on the door and ask if I can be let in: “one of the residents on the fourth floor's kid has no milk powder, I want to go up and deliver some, but those people at the unit entrance won't let me in, and if they catch me, I'll get taken down to the police station……” The resident refuses my request: “the police department already warned us that we're not to let you in (anyway, I was refused, who knows if there really had been a warning or not). Behind the building there also appeared to be no way in, so I'd just have to wait until the SSP changed shifts. Aye, pitiful, cowardly self-defence.

3.3 Day two, midnight to late morning

Middle of the night in the suburbs is windy and cold, and from time to time I'd run to the boiler room to hug the stack and warm up, waiting endlessly. I leaned in against the corner of building 76 unit 5, watching the eastern sky gradually lighten, and then residents began to come out to walk their dogs. Though I was standing there and not moving, more than a few dogs ran off from their owners and came over and started barking at me. When the sun finally came up, to drive out the cold but also to do some scouting, I started exercising on the road inside the fence on the southeast side of building 76, running back and forth. I'd put my backpack behind one car, and one resident found it and tried to carry it away, so I went to stop him. The resident asked me to say what was inside the bag or else he wouldn't give it back. At first I was a little puzzled, then I realized he was just trying to make sure it actually belonged to me. He said, “because I don't know you, I can't confirm this bag is yours, so I had to ask” (though you know those SSP, and your dogs do too), so I said I understood.

And so I did a couple laps, and when it was about time for the shift change, I went to the east wall of building 76 and pretended to bask in the sun, sneaking in observations of the status of the shift change, my backpack resting several meters away. The SSP waiting to be relieved kept looking around, and SSP began to show up on their bicycles, arriving neither too early or too late. I started to get a strange feeling, like wanting to curse at someone. This place really is watertight 24 hours a day. There's completely no hope, or way, of getting in the front, and the newly-arrived SSP were looking all around, enjoying the sunshine, so I could only head to the back of the building. I remember seeing mention that the SSP sometimes go around back to look around, so I could only duck in between a car and some vines and sit on the ground (did I get dirty? The only excuse I could think of was that I'd been out tromping around and hadn't been careful) and look up at the fourth floor, wondering when she might come out and look, and then I'd wave, and have her drop a rope down to hoist things back up. But she didn't. The sun got a little warmer, but then the wind would blow and it'd be cold again. I wrapped a copy of Reference News around my legs (I was wearing enough up top, just not thick enough pants), looking around and dozing off.



The resident from earlier came back. He asked, ‘what are you doing?’ I put my left forefinger to my mouth. He came closer and asked: “are you here for Hu Jia on the fourth floor?” I said I was, that I'd come to deliver milk powder. He said: “we're his neighbors, is there anything we can do to help?” I thought back to the awful experience from earlier in the morning and answered, ‘it might get you in trouble…” He said that was true, and left.

Game over. The entire morning, and not the least bit return. Starting to feel a bit downhearted, I decided that if by 3pm I hadn't succeeded, I'd go, otherwise I'd end up getting home quite late.

3.4 Day two, noon

The sun was shining, and I had to think of a way to deliver the information to the fourth floor! Just a bit would be enough. I got an idea, to use the reflection from a mirror to send a signal. But where was I going to find a mirror? I went west behind building 76 to the boiler room, because I'd remembered there was a bunch of junk scattered around there.

Then I saw 京F E6034, one of the license plate numbers I'd memorized beforehand, and remembered instantly then. The engine hadn't been turned off, and as expected there were four people inside (why four, exactly?) sitting there quietly like snipers, ready to shoot anyone in the proximity of building 76 in the back at any time. It seemed as though as soon as the trouble blew over, the SSP just cut back on their surveillance force, and maybe 京F E6034 was the surveillance car that used to cover the front gate to the compound, since stationed way back here. Hehe, have they concentrated their superior forces to ambush any relief efforts?

Near the boiler room I only found a small triangular piece of mirror, but I had no other choice, so I headed back, and confirmed that license plate number. When I got back to the back side of building 76, I used the mirror's reflection to send up a signal, and while at close range the reflection was quite bright, by the time it reached the fourth floor it was barely visible. I flashed for a long time, but it was no use. What are you doing up there? Do you just sleep all day? Read books? Meditate? Why don't you know to come look out back? The chance of success is fading away. I remembered there was a laser on the binoculars, just like a laser pen, which sends out a red laser beam that makes a little red dot. But the sun was so fierce, the spot was going to be pretty weak. I flashed it for a bit but got no result. Then I remembered that when I arrived on the evening of the first day, the lights on the fourth floor were on, and this red dot might be more bright at night. I'd wait until 7pm to leave; any later and I wouldn't make it home. No way I'm spending another night freezing out here.

The constant defeat was making me quite fidgety. I even thought of going outside the compound and opening the bags of milk powder and throwing them at the SSP and cursing them out before hauling it out of there. But, no. Might as well hold on for a bit longer.

3.5 Day two, afternoon

So I put a temporary halt to the action. In addition to starving at this point, there didn't seem to have been any progress, and so I left the compound, crossed the bridge and went looking for food. Once I'd filled up my stomach, I went back, and laid down in the sun on the grass near the recreation and sports center to the southwest of the compound. I waited until the sky started to get a little dark, and I went back in through the gate, prepared to make one last effort after returning to building 76.


By this time things seemed to have quieted down. I passed in front of unit 5 and saw the SSP eating dinner. When I got to the back of the building I saw a light on in the kitchen, and I got excited, and flickered the laser off and on. Only I still got no response, as if there was nobody in there. Suddenly, someone came out onto the balcony to get something, but didn't see the dot (possibly still not bright enough?) and went back in. Time was running out, the chance was drifting away, and my heart began to sink.

A bit later, someone came out again. They seemed to notice the strange dot, and stopped moving (!!). I waved upwards, and waved again, and again. A window opened, it was her, and she waved to me.

I stood up, and ran to a nearby streetlight, motioning to her to lower a rope down. She shook her hands. I put both my hands up toward her, to show there was no other way. In a loud voice she told me her phone number, and I thought, ‘won't it have been tapped?’, but I phoned the number (the new SIM card was supposed to be for her, but since we were in this situation…). Then she told me not to call her, (“my home phone number is 89520738, but it's being tapped by the security department, if you phone here, you'll end up on the investigation list”), saying: “I'll send my mom down. You just wait.” And then she disappeared from the window.

After 24 hours of waiting, finally some return. I ducked into a dark corner, thinking somebody would be following Jinyan's mom.

A few minutes later, Jinyan's mom arrived, and she didn't appear to have been followed. I came out. I saw her, and she saw me. The SSP were still in front of the building eating dinner, and 京F E6034 was still by the perimeter with its engine running.

Were you followed? No. Does she need milk powder? Yes. I took it out. Thank you so much. How has life been? Okay. How's the kid's condition? Okay. Have the information channels been opened? (I guess she didn't fully understand this question). So far, so good. Do they let you go out to go shopping? I can go out with no problem, they just don't let Jinyan go out. Are you followed when you go out? No. (I take out my camera) Can you pull this up with a rope and take a few pictures? No, we can't rope things up, they'll notice…..(I didn't understand how they would be able to notice) Have the phones been tapped? (Just now I hadn't understood) Yes. Your means of communication have all been cut off, right? Right. What other information do you want me to help you get out, what else do you want to say? ….There's nothing else we can do, just wait for the government's final decision….you get out of here now, I'm worried you'll be in danger. No problem, I've already been here for 24 hours, and I've scouted things out pretty well, it's no problem.

Jinyan's mom looked shocked. Even if there was no danger, the joy of victory still had me hurrying away and out of the compound.

Jinyan's mom probably won't arouse any suspicion. Judging from her appearance, she's been through a few battles. She even came down carrying a handbag, to put the milk powder in without catching the SSP's attention.

All the way back to Dongguan Bridge I kept chanting Seek and Destroy out loud.

I ran into someone, and she asked me:

“Excuse me sir, is that BOBO Freedom City up ahead?”

“It is!”

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