China is ramping up espionage efforts in the United States. One key component of their strategy is to recruit U.S. citizens to join clandestine defense organizations and pass along information to Chinese handlers. From the Associated Press:
He had been a seemingly all-American, clean-cut guy: No criminal record. Engaged to be married. A job teaching English overseas. In letters to the judge, loved ones described the 29-year-old Midwesterner as honest and caring—a good citizen. His fiancee called him “Mr. Patriot.”
Such descriptions make the one that culminated in the courtroom all the more baffling: Glenn Shriver was also a spy recruit for China. He took $70,000 from individuals he knew to be Chinese intelligence officers to try to land a job with a U.S. government agency—first the State Department and later the CIA.
And Shriver is just one of at least 57 defendants in federal prosecutions since 2008 charging espionage conspiracies with China or efforts to pass classified information, sensitive technology or trade secrets to intelligence operatives, state-sponsored entities, private individuals or businesses in China, according to an Associated Press review of U.S. Justice Department cases.
Of those, nine are awaiting trial, and two are considered fugitives. The other defendants have been convicted, though some are yet to be sentenced.
Despite denials from Beijing, counterintelligence experts say the cases reveal the Chinese as among the most active espionage offenders in America today, paying more money and going to greater lengths to glean whatever information they can from the United States.
For years, U.S. counterintelligence experts have cited a growing espionage threat from China, the product of an ever-more competitive world in which technology is as vital as political intelligence—but a sign, too, of China’s increasing prosperity, persistence and patience.
Besides espionage, the Chinese government is also believed to have sophisticated abilities in cyber espionage , rendering them capable of penetrating American cyber security, both into private businesses and government bureaus. From USA Today:
China was fully into cyber-spying by 2003 when a Chinese black-ops team, designated Titan Rain, roamed deep inside U.S. Department of Defense networks. By 2006, corporations in the U.S. and Europe were heavily infiltrated by China and other nation-states, says Paller. A watershed warning came in December 2007. Jonathan Evans, Britain’s Director-General of MI5, cautioned 300 senior execs to guard against Internet assaults from “Chinese state organizations.” Such attacks, Evans warned, are designed to “defeat best-practice IT security systems.”
Evans said at the time ‘if you’re doing business in China, your company’s network and your company’s lawyer’s network are very likely being penetrated,’ ” says Paller.
Cyber-intruders today routinely go after corporations, their law firms — and even their public relations firms, according to an Evans-like warning issued by the FBI last November. “They’re after the corporate playbook,” says Paller.
China’s industrial espionage against the United States is part of their overall attempt to acquire defense and technology secrets to modernize their military. Interestingly, not all espionage is directed from the Chinese government. State owned enterprises also have incentives to recruit spies. From STRATFOR:
First, the United States is a major target for Chinese industrial espionage. This is because it is a leader in technology development, particularly in military hardware desired by China’s expanding military, and a potential adversary at the forefront of Chinese defense thinking.
Second, while it is not the only country developing major new technologies in which China would be interested, the United States has been the most aggressive in prosecuting espionage cases against Chinese agents, thereby producing available data for us to work with. Since 2008, at least seven cases have been prosecuted each year in the United States against individuals spying for China. Five were prosecuted in 2007. Going back to about 2000, from one to three cases were prosecuted annually, and before that, less than one was prosecuted per year.
These cases show how Chinese state-run companies can have an interest in espionage in order to improve their own products, both for the success of their companies and in the national interest of China. The U.S. Department of Justice has not provided specific details on how the stolen defense-related technologies were intended to be used in China, so it is hard to tell whether they would have enhanced China’s military capability.
China takes a mosaic approach to intelligence, which is a wholly different paradigm than that of the West. Instead of recruiting a few high-level sources, the Chinese recruit as many low-level operatives as possible who are charged with vacuuming up all available open-source information and compiling and analyzing the innumerable bits of intelligence to assemble a complete picture. This method fits well with Chinese demographics, which are characterized by countless thousands of capable and industrious people working overseas as well as thousands more analyzing various pieces of the mosaic back home.