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November 05, 2005

Danger Averted?

Friday before last, October 28th, Tai Wang Mak, and his wife, both resident aliens and Chinese citizens, sat nervously at LAX, waiting to board a flight to Hong Kong.

I’m sure Hong Kong is lovely this time of year, and a getaway would have been nice, but sadly, they never made it on board.

The reason? A problem with their carry-on baggage.

Apparently, it included several encrypted CDs which Tai Wang had received from his brother, Chi Mak - lead project engineer on our naval “Quiet Electric Drive” system (our real world version of the silent propulsion the Ruskies had in Red October.)

Yes, the disks contained information on the Q.E.D. project which they were intending to pass along to the Chinese military after Tai caught his connecting flight to Guangzhou.

Those are the details that are just emerging now as the arrest warrant's affidavits become public. You can read news accounts here, here and here. (though I wouldn't bother)

To get the full background on what was really happening, you’d have to turn to Bill Gertz, Washington Times reporter/favored intelligence community leakee.

He explains, today, that this wasn’t quite the “Pfew, disaster averted!” moment the other pieces might lead you to believe. In fact, Chi Mak and his brother weren’t just one-time spies we caught at the last moment. No, the engineer and his family had been running an incredibly damaging espionage ring since 1990.

How damaging? Here's a taste:

Key compromises uncovered so far include sensitive data on Aegis battle management systems that are the core of U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers.

China covertly obtained the Aegis technology and earlier this year deployed its first Aegis warship, code-named Magic Shield, intelligence officials have said.

The Chinese also obtained sensitive data on U.S. submarines, including classified details related to the new Virginia-class attack submarines.

Officials said based on a preliminary assessment, China now will be able to track U.S. submarines, a compromise that potentially could be devastating if the United States enters a conflict with China in defending Taiwan.

China also is thought to have obtained information from the spy ring that will assist Chinese military development of electromagnetic pulse weapons -- weapons that simulate the electronic shock caused by a nuclear blast -- that disrupt electronics.

It also is thought to have obtained unmanned aerial vehicle technology from the spy ring.

To put this in context, why these leaks were so harmful, it’s useful to turn to Gertz again.

This longish July article makes clear China has intentions on Taiwan. This is absolutely nothing new (although it explains a little of their strategy in bringing it about), but the piece will help make concrete how these naval leaks will have dire, real world consequences. Military advantages we’d been counting on have been lost.

The July article on their espionage efforts:

China is stepping up its overt and covert efforts to gather intelligence and technology in the United States, and the activities have boosted Beijing's plans to rapidly produce advanced-weapons systems.

"I think you see it where something that would normally take 10 years to develop takes them two or three," said David Szady, chief of FBI counterintelligence operations.

He said the Chinese are prolific collectors of secrets and military-related information.

"What we're finding is that [the spying is] much more focused in certain areas than we ever thought, such as command and control and things of that sort," Mr. Szady said.

"In the military area, the rapid development of their 'blue-water' navy -- like the Aegis weapons systems -- in no small part is probably due to some of the research and development they were able to get from the United States," he said.

The danger of Chinese technology acquisition is that if the United States were called on to fight a war with China over the Republic of China (Taiwan), U.S. forces could find themselves battling a U.S.-equipped enemy.

The Chinese intelligence services use a variety of methods to spy, including traditional intelligence operations targeting U.S. government agencies and defense contractors.

Additionally, the Chinese use hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors, students and other nonprofessional spies to gather valuable data, most of it considered "open source," or unclassified information.

"What keeps us up late at night is the asymmetrical, unofficial presence," Mr. Szady said. "The official presence, too. I don't want to minimize that at all in what they are doing."

China's spies use as many as 3,200 front companies -- many run by groups linked to the Chinese military -- that are set up to covertly obtain information, equipment and technology, U.S. officials say.”

I think the problem is huge, and it's something that I think we're just getting our arms around," Mr. Szady said of Chinese spying. "It's been there, and what we're doing is more or less discovering it or figuring it out at this point."

For more background on the Chinese use of front companies, the Heritage Foundation, with rather nice timing, put out this release yesterday.

And if you wanna learn about the Chinese use of computer hackers to crack into the DOD's and military contractors’ computer networks, try Time Magazine’s August 28th piece “Invasion of the Chinese Cyberspies” (behind their wall, but reproduced here) An entertaining (if that's the right word) read.

All in all, scary stuff. None of it’s comforting, but if nothing else, we’re waking up to the issue.

digg this
posted by Dr. Reo Symes at 04:25 PM

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