Surprising Lapses Aided Chinese Espionage Lax Security Contributed to the Loss of American Military Secrets,

By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Surprising Lapses Aided Chinese Espionage Lax Security Contributed to the Loss of American Military Secrets,


Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


One private American security guard for a US satellite launch in China reported to duty carrying a sleeping bag. Another pushed a table out of view of surveillance cameras and took a nap.

Still others left windows unlocked, doors unsealed, and sensitive equipment and documents unguarded from Chinese technicians. They came to work inebriated; after work they consorted illegally with Chinese women.

The security so irked one US official assigned to monitor a launch in China that he decided to test whether he could break into the satellite processing building. He got in, sidled up to the security supervisor undetected, and tapped him on the shoulder. Such security lapses are not isolated, according to a congressional report on Chinese espionage released last week. Rather, they are emblematic of a sometimes stunning lack of vigilance by US government and industry in safeguarding weapons-related secrets from the agents of China's military modernization. For two decades, China has enjoyed unprecedented opportunities to gather intelligence not only on US satellites and rocketry, but also on a wide range of military technology, says the report by the House select committee on China, chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R) of California. Indeed, the report paints a disturbing picture of an almost sieve- like leakage of American secrets, caused by four main factors: lax counterintelligence measures, loosened export controls, a willingness of US firms to subordinate security to profit, and the growing difficulty of monitoring information flow in the cyber age. China, meanwhile, has collected data drop by drop, it says. As Congress begins work to halt the seepage - with the Senate adopting a package of tighter security measures last week and the House scheduled to follow suit this month - details emerging from the report highlight major areas of US vulnerability. Weak counterintelligence Chinese spying is difficult for US intelligence to track, partly because it involves a piecemeal strategy that contrasts sharply with the tightly centralized espionage of the former Soviet Union. Beijing mines information from among its estimated 3,000 corporations and 100,000 students and graduates in the US, as well as tens of thousands of delegation members who visit America each year, the report says. By tasking ordinary Chinese visitors - and, as needed, "sleeper" agents long established in the United States - with small, specific duties, Beijing's spy organizations can hide behind multiple fronts. For example, one "sleeper" agent named Bin Wu, a former Chinese philosophy professor, arrived in the US after the 1989 Tiananmen protests. He set up several small front companies in Norfolk, Va., to solicit technology for forwarding via Hong Kong to China's main intelligence body. In 1993, he was convicted for smuggling third- generation night-vision equipment to China. "Because of the breadth of the PRC's {People's Republic of China} collection efforts, the US government cannot completely monitor PRC activities in the United States," says the report. The FBI and CIA face shortages of Chinese-language experts and other resources for countering China, it says. Moreover, US intelligence lacks any broad program to block efforts by China's expanding US-based commercial network to acquire US military technologies. …

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