Edward Snowden

America's prying eyes have been focused on China 'for years'

State media denounce a long-running US campaign of hacking and espionage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 10:53pm

US intelligence agencies have been spying on China via land, sea, air and cyberspace for years, including a failed attempt to acquire confidential information about China's fourth-generation stealth fighters, according to state television reports.

The official website of China Central Television reported over the weekend that US intelligence agencies have for years spared no effort to access classified information from China, including by using reconnaissance satellites, surveillance aircraft and numerous monitoring posts.

The national broadcaster said, the Americans had also been making use of advanced technology to hack into Chinese cyberspace for up to 15 years.

The report came after revelations made by former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden suggesting that US intelligence agencies had been hacking millions of civilian computers throughout the world, in addition to recording phone conversations. The allegations sparked public outcry over the invasion of privacy.

CCTV also reported that the US had failed in an attempt to steal secrets about China's stealth fighters by sending agents to infiltrate facilities and pay bribes in exchange for information from researchers at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, which is affiliated with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), a state-owned aerospace and defence giant. No mention was made of when the alleged espionage occurred.

The aircraft maker, based in Chengdu, Sichuan, was responsible for the research, development and manufacture of the Jian-20 stealth fighter, which underwent a successful test flight a couple of years ago.

A phone operator at the US embassy in Beijing said yesterday that no duty officer was available for comment.

Retired People's Liberation Army Colonel Yue Gang, who is familiar with intelligence-related affairs, said that he was unaware of any US attempt to obtain intelligence on the J-20.

"We can hardly verify the authenticity of attempted espionage, which could have happened as far back as five years ago," the colonel said.

And even if it did take place, according to the former PLA officer, the Chinese side might not have enough evidence to make any arrest.

"In another possible scenario, the suspect(s) may have been caught, and the Chinese side subsequently used them in exchange for Chinese agents caught by their US counterparts, in a clandestine manner," he said.

Similarly, China's official army newspaper yesterday branded Prism, the US Internet surveillance programme exposed by Snowden, as "frightening" and accused the US of being a "habitual offender" when it came to network monitoring.

The PLA Daily hit out at the US for implying that spying on citizens from other countries was justified, and said that the PRISM monitoring programme had probably been used to collect large amounts of data unrelated to anti-terrorism operations.

The comments are some of the most scathing to appear in China's state-run press following Beijing's refusal to make an official comment.

"US intelligence agencies are 'habitual offenders' with regards to network monitoring and espionage," the article, attributed to the PLA's Foreign Languages Institute, said. "There is reason to believe US intelligence agencies, while collecting anti-terrorism information online have also 'incidentally' collected a lot of information in other fields."

Additional reporting by AFP