How a Chinese National Got Into Arizona’s Terror Center

At ProPublica, Ryan Gabrielson and the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Andrew Becker describe a suspected security breach involving Chinese nationals at what was once described as “‘one of the best-run and most effective’ intelligence facilities in the U.S..”

Lizhong Fan’s desk was among a crowd of cubicles at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center in Phoenix. For five months in 2007, the Chinese national and computer programmer opened his laptop and enjoyed access to a wide range of sensitive information, including the Arizona driver’s license database, other law enforcement databases, and potentially a roster of intelligence analysts and investigators.

[…] Chinese espionage has made news in recent months as federal investigators have revealed successful assaults by hackers against businesses and government. Last March, homeland security officials in Washington discovered that cyber attackers later traced to China had accessed data on federal workers who’ve applied for top-secret clearance. These electronic break-ins were conducted remotely, continents away from the servers holding the data.

How the Phoenix intelligence center found itself vulnerable to a serious security breach, however, was neither much of a technological feat nor, it seems, the result of masterful espionage. Indeed, an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica – built on more than 50 interviews and the examination of thousands of pages of federal investigative reports, criminal and civil court filings, internal correspondence and immigration records – shows the episode at the intelligence center came off rather easily.

[…] The chance that Fan made off with a raft of sensitive material was made possible by a set of cozy relationships – among a tainted sheriff’s official, a dubious technology startup company and a woman who U.S. government officials think is a Chinese spy. [Source]

Fan suddenly returned to Beijing with two laptops and several hard drives, after wiping clean those of computers he had worked on in the U.S.. Meanwhile, Reuters’ Joseph Kolb reports the sentencing this week of a Chinese-born American scientist for taking his work laptop back to China in 2011.

Jianyu Huang, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen from China who lives in Albuquerque, pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of a government-owned computer and computer-related media, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico said in a statement.

The scientist was fired in April 2012 from Sandia National Laboratories, a government-owned research facility operated by Sandia Corporation that is responsible in part for ensuring the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

[…] He was arrested in June 2012 on a six-count indictment that included charges he misused federal government resources and equipment to conduct research for Chinese research institutions. [Source]

August 26, 2014 5:07 PM
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