Who says paranoia doesn't pay off?

Tuesday, 24 September 2002, 1:02 AM EST

China thinks Microsoft software contains secretly embedded code that the United States government can manipulate at will. So, in case of war between the two countries, a Pentagon official can hit a switch and--presto!--cripple China's computing infrastructure.

A senior Microsoft executive, who often confers with the Chinese (sorry, no names), told me this tale. I thought he was joking.

He wasn't. Some people in the Chinese government actually believe it's true.

I'm sure this type of functionality is cheaper than ordering in a bevy of B2 bombers. While Microsoft may be a predatory monopolist and the U.S. government sometimes does goofy stuff--getting Fidel Castro's beard to fall out with secret powder is my particular favorite--the image of Bill Gates getting his marching orders from President George Bush just doesn't compute.

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