Tag Archives: spying

What Damage Does Taipei Spy Case Do To U.S.-Taiwan Military Cooperation?

The arrest of Taiwan’s Major-General Lo Hsien-che on charges of spying for Beijing pours cold water on the warming cross-Straits ties of the past couple of years. Lo was detained on January 27th on suspicion of passing on intelligence about U.S. arms sales and tactical military communications, according to the Ministry of National Defence in Taipei. Local media reports say that during raids on Lo’s home and office, investigators seized documents on the Po Sheng military communications system Taiwan is buying from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, a proposed purchase of Apache helicopters from Boeing and and maps of the army’s underground fiber-optic cables.

China and Taiwan have long spied on each other but the 51-year-old Lo is the highest-ranking Taiwanese officer to be allegedly involved in espionage on Beijing’s behalf since the 1960s. He was reportedly recruited by China in 2004 while stationed in Thailand as a military attache and has been under suspicion of being a spy since last year. He was most recently head of the military command’s communications and information office. The question now is less what damage this will do to Beijing-Taipei relations than what damage it has done to U.S.-Taiwanese military intelligence cooperation, given the access Lo had to classified information about command, control and communications systems development.


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Double Agent Arrests in Taipei May Sour Cross-Strait Relations

In contrast to the current frosty state of relations between Beijing and Tokyo, those between Beijing and Taipei have been good, arguably their best ever. The arrests of a senior Taiwanese military intelligence officer and a Taiwanese businessman on charges of being double agents for China threatens to undermine that. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says the arrest of the officer occurred on Monday after a four-year investigation. Colonel Lo Chi-cheng who was in charge at the bureau of building Taiwan’s spy network in China, is accused of having passed names of members of the network to Chinese authorities, according to local press reports. The businessman was named as Lo Pin, a Taiwanese spy run by Lo Chi-cheng and who was said to have been turned by China after being uncovered and arrested in Fujian in 2004. Lo Pin is reported to have in turn turned Lo Chi-cheng in 2007. One factor in the effect on cross-strait relations will be the extent of the damage done to Taipei’s espionage network.

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Xue Feng, Stern Hu, State Secrets And China’s Rule Of Law

When is publicly available information a state secret? When it is business information held by China’s state-owned firms. The sentencing of Xue Feng, a 44-year old Chinese-born American geologist, to eight years in jail in China for stealing state secrets, which in his case involved an attempting to buy data about the oil industry for the U.S. energy consultancy he worked for, follows the 10-year sentence given in March to Stern Hu, formerly of the Australian mining firm Rio Tinto, for accepting bribes and dealing in state secrets.

It doesn’t take much to draw comparisons between Xue and Hu’s cases. Both involved men who had gone abroad, gained a second nationality and then returned to work in the country of their birth as executives for a foreign company. Both have received exemplary sentences in comparison with those handed down to the Chinese nationals tried alongside them (three in both cases). Both were working in what are regarded as strategic natural resources industries (oil and steel respectively).  Both cases strained relations between Beijing and a foreign government (the U.S. and Australia) that had raised the cases at the highest levels; handing down the sentencing of Xue on the same day that the U.S. was celebrating its own Independence Day holiday was a particularly pointed rebuff, especially as Washington had not publicized Xue’s case previously in the way that Canberra had done with Hu’s.

The lessons to be drawn from all this, for foreign businesses at least, is that those competing in any of the 20 industries that China has designated as strategic and in which it is grooming national champions need to remember that the line dividing market intelligence from industrial espionage is a fine one and that the one dividing market intelligence from a state secret finer still. And while it might appear to foreign companies that the distinction is vague, it is not to Chinese law makers: draft regulations released earlier this year defined business information held by state firms as state secrets.

Second, that Chinese-born foreign nationals who return to work in China for foreign companies are seen as a special kind of threat; those operating in sensitive industries doubly so (Reuters has a list of a dozen or so examples of ethnic Chinese punished for stealing secrets and spying here). Third, that the due process of law in China — which has been applied in both these cases (more or less) — is still the application of a rule of law in which law is regarded as an agency of the state.

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Nanjing’s Not So Secret Espionage Museum

This Bystander loves this story, even though I suspect it falls into the too-good-to-be-true category: A new museum in Nanjing about spying is off-limits to foreigners. “We don’t want such sensitive spy information to be exposed to foreigners, so they are not allowed to enter,” a museum spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

Only Chinese are allowed inside the Jiangsu National Security Education Museum, which documents espionage practices and houses a collection of spy gadgetry going back to the Party’s early days in the 1920s, such as hollowed out coins for hiding documents and guns disguised as lipsticks. And no photography inside the building, either, not even if you have one of those miniature spy cameras that are on display.

All rather quaint in this era of GhostNet and other high-tech cyber espionage. But why have a public museum in the first place if you want to keep it secret?

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Hard to take an immediate read of the impact on Sino-American relations of the arrest of four people in the U.S. for spying for China. U.S. officials have long said that the Chinese government has been making intense efforts to steal U.S. government and industrial secrets. A steady flow of Chinese-related espionage cases has been made public by the U.S. government in recent years, keeping the issue in the public eye. Reuters has a list here.

These latest two cases seem to be more of the same. In the first, Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a China-born engineer who used to be employed by Boeing and is a naturalized U.S, citizen, was held on suspicion of having stolen trade secrets, including information on the Space Shuttle, the C-17 military transport plane and the Delta-IV rocket, which he is alleged to have sold to China.

In the second case, Tai Shen Kuo and Yu Xin Kang, residents of New Orleans, and Gregg William Bergersen of Alexandria, Virginia, a weapons system policy analyst for a U.S. government agency that manages missile sales to foreign governments, were arrested for passing secret U.S. defense documents to China.

Both sets of arrests were announced by the U.S. government on Monday. Any assessment of how much substantive damage was done to U.S. national security, if any, will have to await court hearings. For now, the China-bashers have a spoon with which to bang on their cages.

No apparent reaction from China yet. Last November, China hits back at a U.S. congressional panel report, calling its claims of trade manipulation and high-tech espionage by Beijing “insulting” and “misleading.” Not that Beijing will want a day in court to prove the point. Just expect some diplomatic tit-for-tat retaliation.

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