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Chinese messages take over intercom and phones at US government offices

The front of the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland. (Famartin/Wikimedia Commons)
August 09, 2018

A strange Chinese message played over the intercom at the National Weather Service center this week.

An obscure message voiced by a Chinese woman interrupted workers Wednesday morning at the National Weather Service center in Maryland, according to a Washington Post report.

The message came over the intercom system, as well as over the phone at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland.

It came as a surprise to employees, as the intercom is used rarely outside emergency practice drills.

An NWS employee said anonymously that the phone message occurred 15 minutes prior to the intercom message, both lasting approximately 45 seconds.

A translation of the message said something similar to “you have a package from Amazon at the Chinese Embassy, press 1 for more details,” the NWS employee said.

NOAA released a statement Thursday attributing the incident to “a series of robocalls” that afflicted the phone and intercom systems.

“This robocall, with a female Mandarin recording, has been warned against for some time and is a known issue in the United States,” the statement said.

The agency also noted a statement from the Federal Trade Commission in April that warned of the scam.

“Have you gotten a call from someone saying they’re from a Chinese Consulate office?” the statement said. “If so, you’re not alone – based on reports to the FTC and the real Chinese Consulates.”

“But here’s the thing: it’s not a Chinese Consulate office calling. It’s a scammer,” the statement added.

NOAA also said a team is working with AT&T “to prevent all outside telephone numbers from accessing the building’s PA system, to prevent this from occurring again.”

Doug Fenderson, the branch chief for infrastructure and Web services at the center, sent an email to personnel saying: “We are aware of the Chinese message that is propagating through the phone system and was [broadcast] over the building PA.”

“We are engaging the Vendor AT&T to alert them of the incident and get root cause. The phone [system] is not tied to any of the Government IT controlled systems in the building. Please do not be alarmed,” he added.

The agency is still unsure how the message came across their systems.