The hackers clocked in at precisely 9:23 a.m. Brussels time onJuly 18 last year, and set to their task. In just 14 minutes ofquick keyboard work, they scooped up the e-mails of the presidentof the European Union Council, Herman Van Rompuy, Europe's pointman for shepherding the delicate politics of the bailout forGreece, according to a computer record of the hackers'activity.

Over 10 days last July, the hackers returned to the council'scomputers four times, accessing the internal communications of 11of the EU's economic, security and foreign affairs officials. Thebreach, unreported until now, potentially gave the intruders anunvarnished view of the financial crisis gripping Europe.

And the spies were themselves being watched. Working together insecret, some 30 North American private security researchers weretracking one of China's biggest and busiest hacking groups.

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