Charles Lee, a U.S. citizen, was arrested by Chinese police almost as soon as he stepped off the plane at the Guangzhou airport in southern China, in January 2003. For the next three years he was interrogated, subjected to daily brainwashing sessions, and force-fed through a tube rammed down his nostrils into his stomach.
The police were expecting Lee because they were reading his emails—all thanks to the handiwork of a major American tech firm. Cisco Systems, the networking behemoth, developed and furnished the technology that Chinese public security officials needed to figure out that Lee was corresponding with practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline, looking to find innovative and high-profile ways to expose a draconian persecution against them, according to documents filed in a Northern California court.
The title of director Leon Lee’s new film is a reference to the “more than cutting-edge technology, but the scale and sophistication of the Golden Shield project.”

Since the early 2000s, Cisco Systems has helped the Chinese Communist Party set up and maintain a sophisticated security product that allows the Party to track, profile, identify, and suppress practitioners of Falun Gong.
The sinister consequences of this “social stability” apparatus, dubbed the Golden Shield project, have been dramatized recently in the first feature film by Peabody Award-winning director and producer Leon Lee.
Real-Life Drama
Director Leon Lee accepting his award for “Human Harvest,” with Crystal Chen at the 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony in New York on May 31, 2015. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Peabody Awards)
In 2015, Lee’s “Human Harvest” won the George Foster Peabody Award, a distinguished and selective broadcast media accolade. The documentary dealt with the Chinese regime’s murderous procurement of transplant organs from still-living Falun Gong practitioners and other persecuted groups in China.
Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline, drew the ire of former Party chief Jiang Zemin after official estimates placed the number of adherents at 70 million to 100 million people. In July 1999, Jiang ordered all Party organs to target Falun Gong practitioners and “ruin their reputations, bankrupt them financially, and destroy them physically,” contemporaneous reports from Falun Gong human rights monitors said.
When you approach a deal in China … you have to understand what their goals and objectives are, what they value … [and] you have to build a solution to help them to achieve those goals.— William Nuti, former president of Cisco Asia

Party cadres who complied with the requirements quickly climbed the regime’s ranks, while those who failed to successfully “transform,” or “eradicate” Falun Gong practitioners fell out of favor.
“The Bleeding Edge,” the title of Lee’s film, is a reference to the “more than cutting-edge technology, but the scale and sophistication of the Golden Shield project,” Lee told the Epoch Times in a telephone interview.
Eliminating ‘Problems’
The Golden Shield system is a highly advanced control and surveillance “solution,” a “term of art used by Cisco to describe a comprehensive, well-integrated set of products and services designed specifically to eliminate their customers’ specific ‘problems,’” according to a 2011 class action suit filed in a Northern California court by Charles Lee and 12 Chinese citizens who were victims of this system.
The apparatus allows Chinese public security officers to monitor and archive the Internet activities of Falun Gong practitioners, as well as identify practitioners at railway stations using facial recognition technology. The Chinese police can then show up unannounced at the homes of practitioners, make arrests, and later use the information gathered from practitioners’ browsing history to aid in their “transformation” (zhuanhua)—a euphemism for brutal torture and brainwashing sessions.

Falun Gong practitioners are considered successfully “transformed” when they renounce their faith, swear fealty to the Communist Party, and, in many cases, assist in transforming other practitioners.
A key component of Cisco’s design is an Internet surveillance system “which as the eyes and ears of the apparatus comprises Internet traffic snoopers, highly advanced image/video analyzers, and innovative network security features capable of detecting, tracking and identifying Falun Gong believers online,” the complaint says.
This is integrated with detention, notification, and tracking systems so that Falun Gong believers can be located, isolated, and subject to forced conversion. The Golden Shield includes databases of Falun Gong practitioners, “specifically to give Chinese security access to the sensitive information to facilitate the forced conversion through torture of Falun Gong believers based on their individual social and economic circumstances, and the amount of leverage that can be exercised against them through threats against family members, fellow adherents, and others,” the complaint says.
Building ‘Guanxi’
Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers at the 2006 Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
According to the lawsuit, Cisco is fully aware of the Chinese regime’s “douzheng” (violent struggle) campaign against Falun Gong and has been marketing its Golden Shield “solution” along those lines. At least one Cisco presentation boasts that its security apparatus will help the regime “combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostiles,” and the Cisco website still states that its products will ensure a nation’s “social stability”—Party parlance for the wanton suppression of Falun Gong, dissidents, and ethnic minorities.
The techniques used in the Golden Shield, first developed to target Falun Gong, appear to have been rolled out more widely over the following decade as the regime continued to beef up its formidable security apparatus. By the late 2000s, non-Falun Gong dissidents were reporting that police had real-time access to their online chat histories.
The lawsuit also holds Cisco’s former CEO John Chambers, and Fredy Cheung, Cisco’s senior vice president for the Greater China Region, accountable for violating human rights in the United States, since the supervision of the Golden Shield operations and its marketing campaign issues from the company’s headquarters in San Jose, California.
Chambers, now Cisco’s executive chairman, is known to have met with former Party leader Jiang Zemin three times, the chief perpetrator of the persecution of Falun Gong, and may have cultivated some form of “guanxi” (reciprocal-benefit relationship) to seal the Golden Shield deal, according to court documents.
William Nuti, the former president of Cisco Asia, offers a glimpse into how guanxi with Jiang

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