The secret agents who spied on the US for China
A New York Times report on Sunday suggested that Beijing “systematically dismantled” the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) spying operations in China from late 2010 to end of 2012. It said between 18 to 20 agents had been killed or jailed, including one who was allegedly shot in the courtyard of a government building in front of his colleagues as a warning.
Behind the warming relations between the world’s two leading economies, a hidden and often brutal war continues for valuable intelligence about military technology and other classified information.
The Times report only reveals the tip of the iceberg regarding the rang espionage and counter espionage activities. And while China may have severely impacted US intelligence operations, over the years, the US has uncovered a number of high profile cases of spies recruited by China.
Larry Wu-tai Chin
Chin was a Chinese language translator for the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service. He sold classified documents to the People’s Republic of China from 1952 to 1985. He provided sensitive information about Richard Nixon’s plans for normalising relations with China two years before the president visited the country. In February 1986, Chin was convicted of 17 counts of espionage, conspiracy and tax evasion. Chin committed suicide with a garbage bag over his head on his sentencing day.
An aeronautical engineer from Taiwan, Gwo-Bao Min began working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1975, where he studied nuclear weapons and missile defence. In 1981, Min was stopped at the airport before one of his trips to China, where FBI agents found he was carrying papers with detailed answers to five questions, including one pertaining to the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons.
Moo was a South Korean businessman convicted of spying for the People’s Republic of China in May 2006. Moo tried to buy US military equipment to send to China when he was arrested by undercover US agents. Some of the equipment included an F-16 fighter jet engine, an AGM-129A cruise missile, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter engines and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.
In 1982 FBI special agent James Smith recruited Katrina Leung, a 28-year-old Chinese immigrant, to work in Chinese counter-intelligence. As a prominent business consultant, Leung was valued for her contacts with high-level Chinese officials. Leung became involved in sexual relationships with Smith and another FBI handler, William Cleveland. Smith made classified documents available to Leung which she passed on to the Chinese. Leung also providing Smith with information on Chinese nuclear, military and political issues.
Candace Marie Claiborne
The US diplomat was accused of accepting tens of thousands of US dollars in cash and gifts from Chinese intelligence agents in March. The US Department of Justice said Claiborne, 60, knew that the two Chinese men she had regular contact with while working for the State Department in China and other countries were from the Chinese security services and that the money they gave her was in exchange for US secrets. She took cash and an iPhone for herself, but most of the funds went to an unidentified man half her age with whom she lived in Beijing and Shanghai.
China has also stepped up counter-espionage activities in recent years. In December 2015, the Obama administration claimed that unidentified Chinese sources had hacked into the US government office management system, stealing thousands of files containing information about government officials and spies.