March 01, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

A leaked trove of documents opens a rare window into Chinese hacking practices

China has long used hacking as a political and law-enforcement tool to put eyes on dissidents, governments and other people it wants to watch. Because of Associated Press reporting efforts, the picture of how that is done — and what it might mean — is a bit clearer now. On Feb. 19, multiple sources alerted China investigative correspondent Dake Kang to a newly discovered leak of documents from a Chinese police contractor that revealed the company was hacking the networks of over a dozen foreign governments for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The documents revealed how these hackers-for-hire operations worked, which systems they targeted, what tools they used and how they assisted police in the surveillance and harassment of dissidents and oppressed ethnicities even outside China’s borders. The documents had been published online by an unknown source, and no other major media outlet had picked up on it yet. But how to verify? Kang, who at the time happened to be in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, was en route to the airport to return to Beijing when he was browsing the contractor’s website. One of their addresses was right there, just a 40-minute drive from the airport. Kang canceled his flight, hopped into a cab and headed to the company’s offices. U.S.-based technology reporter Frank Bajak simultaneously jumped on the story, contacting cybersecurity analysts, many of whom said they thought it was authentic. The following morning, Kang returned to the company where two employees confirmed the leak. With effective communication and swift editing, the story made it to the wire during U.S. daytime.  

The cross-continental teamwork and speed paid off. The AP was first among major competitors to put the story out, with others following hours later — some of them using AP’s exclusive photos.  

For a quick and concerted scramble that leveraged differing forms of AP expertise, touched multiple continents and delivered precision on deadline, Kang and Bajak are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 22, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP’s chilling exclusive of Russian ‘passportization’ inside occupied Ukrainian territories breaks just as Putin’s preordained election begins

The Kyiv team, in partnership with Lori Hinnant of global investigations, gained exclusive access to a world clouded with hostile Russian propaganda in the occupied territories to report on the increasing Russian pressure on Ukrainians to accept their passports.

The team pooled their contacts to track down willing Ukrainians who had accepted the passports and managed to evacuate from occupied Berdyansk and Kherson.

A few brave Ukranians, fearing condemnation by their own people, overcame their fears after the team earned their trust through steadfast reporting over the past year.

Lawyers, experts, and Ukrainian officials revealed previously unreported information on the “passportization” policy and that Ukrainians were being forced to fight in the Russian army.

Stepanenko and Arhinova found families who had resisted, including a woman whose sons risked being drafted to fight against Ukrainian forces.

The story ran just as voting in the Russian election was getting underway, driving interest by major news outlets over the weekend.

For their commitment and resourcefulness against the odds, Hanna Arhirova, Susie Blann, Lori Hinnant, Samya Kullab, Evgeniy Maloletka, Illia Novikov and Vasilisa Stepanenko are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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