Chinese intelligence operations worldwide to steal important information both through human agents and cyber attacks are a growing threat, according to experts who testified at a US congressional commission last week.
Beijing’s spies, operating through the civilian Ministry of State Security and People’s Liberation Army Intelligence Bureau (IB), have scored impressive gains against the United States in particular, where economic espionage — the theft of trade secrets and high technology — remains at unprecedented levels.
Technology espionage by China was highlighted by the conviction in California last week of Wenxia Man of San Diego who was convicted of illegally conspiring to export fighter jet engines and an unmanned aerial vehicle to China.
According to trial evidence in the case, Man conspired with Chinese national Xinsheng Zhang in China, to illegally acquire and export Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines used in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines used in the F-22 Raptor fighter jet; and General Electric F110-GE-132 engines designed for the F-16 fighter jet.
Additionally, the case involved plans to export the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle that can be armed with Hellfire missiles.
Man told an undercover agent in the case that Zhan was a technology spy working for the Chinese military to replicate foreign defense items obtained abroad. The conspiracy highlighted the key targets of Chinese espionage.
160 Chinese agents identified
The CI Centre, a counterintelligence think tank, has identified a total 160 Chinese espionage agents uncovered in the United States between 1985 and 2016, one less than spy cases run by Moscow against the United States. Many involved theft of industrial or trade secrets useful to the Chinese military.
“The PRC today is the most aggressive intelligence threat facing the United States,” said former FBI Agent David Major, currently director of the CI Centre.
“FBI investigations and arrests for industrial espionage and violations of export control laws are at an all-time high, predominately linked to the Chinese government,” said Michele Van Cleave, former National Counterintelligence Executive, a senior US government counterspy post.
FBI economic espionage cases increased 53% from 2014 to 2015, and the number of cases currently underway is in the hundreds.
Peter Mattis, a China affairs analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, warned that China’s spy services target young people who travel to China.
“China’s intelligence services have demonstrated repeatedly over the last three decades the willingness to recruit students and others inside China who might be directed to join the US Government in the hopes of future access,” Mattis said.
Blackmail US government workers
The hacking attack against the US Office of Personnel Management was an extremely damaging compromise that will greatly benefit Chinese intelligence activities.
The loss of sensitive records on 22 million US government workers included every employee with access to secrets, providing China’s Ministry of State Security and IB, formerly the PLA General Staff Second Department, with a gold mine of information useful in spotting and recruiting agents.
“The Chinese now have a detailed roster of most if not all American contractors and government employees who have access to classified information, plus a roster of their friends, colleagues or co-workers who may be useful conduits or potential assets in their own right,” Van Cleave said. “They also have a treasure trove of data that can be used to coerce, blackmail or recruit US sources or simply enable personalized phishing schemes.”
Full article: Chinese Espionage and Intelligence Activities at All Time High, Experts Say (Asia Times)