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August 10, 2005
Chinese Espionage Vaults To Top Of FBI Priorities

After the catastrophic attacks on 9/11, American priorities for intelligence operations understandably shifted overwhelmingly to identifying potential new threats for attacks and other violence on American assets at home and abroad. The London Telegraph now reports that those priorities may have changed again, as the Chinese have taken advantage of the distraction by expanding their military and industrial espionage efforts in the United States:

The FBI is deploying hundreds of new agents across America to crack down on spying by a small army of Chinese agents who are stealing information designed to kick-start high-tech military and business programmes.

The new counter-intelligence strategy reflects growing alarm at the damage being done by spies hidden among the 700,000 Chinese visitors entering the US each year.

"China is the biggest [espionage] threat to the US today," David Szady, the assistant director of the FBI's counter-intelligence division, told the Wall Street Journal.

Officers said the campaign to close down China's wide-ranging espionage effort was now one of the major intelligence priorities after the struggle against terrorism.

The FBI finds the new Chinese espionage threat troublesome, and not just because of its scale. The Chinese have so many people working legitimately within the United States that it allows agents to hide well within those communities -- groups that tend naturally to act in a closed manner. The FBI also faces significant linguistic challenges with the Chinese, a problem it didn't necessarily have with the Russians. The Chinese use several different dialects, and some so different they almost qualify as separate languages.

One bright spot for the FBI, according to the Telegraph, is that the spies sent by Beijing are mostly amateurs, not professionals. That counts as a blessing and a curse. Their lack of training makes it easier for the agency to spot them, but the sheer number sent makes it more difficult for the US to track them all. Most of them have orders to send any information they get back to China with no particular strategy in mind. This also complicates matters for counter-espionage, because capturing a foreign agent generally leads nowhere else -- few traditional "rings" exist.

The rise of Chinese espionage comes at a difficult time for the United States. We need the Chinese as a lever against the North Koreans, but we also see the tremendous build-up of military resources that Beijing has already put into the Pacific Theater. Soon they will challenge us for naval supremacy, putting Taiwan at risk. That may satisfy Beijing in the short run, but tyrannies that acquire power rarely stop themselves from acquiring more. Their espionage efforts help them do so with our own technology, probably the only way it could happen at all.

All of this has occurred in the background as the war on Islamofascist terrorism necessarily occupies our attention. Beijing sees this and knows to take advantage of it, diplomatically by stalling us on Iraq and Iran, and militarily and strategically by espionage and ramped-up production schedules. They have done everything but sent telegrams introducing themselves as our next challenge on the global stage. It's the unpaid bill that no one wants to open because everyone knows what the cost will be.

That bill has apparently come due now. Despite the enormous amount of trade that benefits both nations, the Chinese have decided to square off against us to challenge us for primacy in the Pacific and possibly the world, at a time when they know us to be distracted. We need to start taking our security posture in the Pacific more seriously. We need a serious evaluation of our capabilities in that theater and an assessment of whether we will continue to present a strong enough posture over the next two or three decades to deter Beijing from becoming adventurous, in Taiwan and elsewhere. We also need to unshackle Japan and convince Tokyo to either create a strong defensive force for itself and the nearby areas or to assist us in expanding our own forces to provide that security umbrella.

The Chinese have made their play. They will need to see that we will not simply accept a subservient role quietly on the basis of distraction.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 10, 2005 8:35 PM

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» China Syndrome from Hard Starboard
Okay, I admit it: even for all the blogging I've been doing over the past week or two, there are a few topics I meant to get to but let slide. And this topic most egregiously. So we'll catch up on it in round-up form. Chinese Espionage Vaults To T... [Read More]

Tracked on August 29, 2005 11:37 AM

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