defcon

Getting into the United States has long been a pain in the ass for foreigners. It’s getting worse, especially for citizens of nations targeted for political retribution.

As “part of a broad effort to curb Chinese cyber espionage,” an anonymous “senior [Obama] Administration official” told Reuters that the United States may deny visas to Chinese citizens who want to attend the DefCon and Black Hat hacker conventions in Las Vegas this August.

The relationship between the hacking community and the U.S. government, frostier post-Edward Snowden, has suffered further since the filing of federal hacking charges against five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398.

Ars Technica reports:

Jeff Moss, founder of both the DefCon and Black Hat conferences, and Chris Wysopal, a member of the Black Hat board that reviews presentations, were both skeptical of the move. Wysopal noted that Black Hat talks are taped and sold after the conference, and preventing Chinese hackers from being physically there would not appreciably affect China’s hacking abilities. “It seems symbolic to me,” Wysopal told Reuters of the move. Several Chinese nationals are booked to speak at the Black Hat conference, although none are booked to speak at DefCon.

The takeaway: The U.S., pissed off at authoritarian China, is increasingly resorting to the authoritarian — and puerile — tactic of visa denial in order to retaliate. “Ten to 12 Chinese citizens were unexpectedly denied visas last week to attend a space and cyber conference hosted by the Space Foundation in Colorado this week, the organizers said,” according to Reuters.

This follows an unusual decision in April by the State Department to deny a visa to Iran’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Aboutalebi, because he served as an interpreter to the students who took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So much for diplomacy, cross-cultural exchanges, the importance of dialogue, blah blah blah.

As Wysopal notes, blackballing Chinese nationals from travel to the U.S. won’t slow down Unit 61398′s commercial espionage activities. But it does make the U.S. look bad.

[Photo by Eliot Phillips]