At Large

Chinese Rules

If it's worth our having, Beijing will spy on it.

By 5.14.10

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Michael Hayden, the former CIA and NSA chief, seemed to believe he was imparting some form of secret when he warned American businessmen who planned to visit the current six-month long Shanghai World Expo that they would be targeted by Chinese intelligence. Except for the very few businessmen who had never traded before with China -- or even studied the issue -- this was hardly hot news.

Commercial contacts have been high priority objectives for Chinese intelligence operations for many years. What is comparatively new is the extent of the technological operations aimed at business travelers and even some selected tourists. Westerners in general and Americans in particular have never understood the scope of Chinese official interest in foreigners as individuals.

From the Chinese standpoint such interest is not only natural, but it is traditional. How else, they think, can their long isolated official elements comprehend the inner workings of the arcane world of the Occident? Personal dossiers on thousands of innocent westerners have been compiled, according to European and American intelligence sources.

There was no specific starting point other than information that had been acquired during World War II and the Korean War and through third country contact. From the moment of the Kissinger/Nixon opening to China, the opportunity existed to use hospitality as a device for making contact and obtain information from a broad range of social and economic sources.

Of course, this was aside from normal electronic intelligence operations' "bugging" of high value targets. General Hayden's suggestion is that travelers to Shanghai not bring their own cell phones and laptops. This method of avoiding Chinese security electronically draining these private devices of their cached information may seem a bit bizarre, but in fact this advice has been appropriate for many years.

In the United States, Chinese human information gathering  (Humint) has been in high gear for at least thirty years. Their UN mission in New York had expanded in the early 1980s to include a sizeable military component. Under the command of a Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) Marine general the young officers of the military mission, jointly with their political counterparts on the diplomatic side, fanned out to visit nearby think tanks that were known to have U.S. Government defense contracts.

If a strategic conference was held anywhere within striking distance of the PRC mission at the UN, Chinese officers would seek to attend. Dinner invitations to targeted participants were offered in return by the officers. The best Chinese meals in NYC were served at the Chinese mission located near to Lincoln Center. It was a much-sought invitation for American defense thinkers in the region and a bonanza of contacts for Chinese intelligence.

In December 2007 MI5, the British internal security service, warned UK financial firms, banks and law practices that they were targets of cyber invasion by "Chinese state organizations." In 2009 a fourteen-page white paper that had been prepared earlier was distributed by MI5's Center for Protection of  National Infrastructure to an expanded list of mostly financial institutions warning of electronic hacking by the Chinese. These cyber invasions were supplemented, according to the MI5 document, by "honey traps" set up for UK businessmen in what the Sunday Times in London referred to in 2010 as "a bid to blackmail them into betraying sensitive commercial secrets."

Google announced through its chief legal officer in January of this year, " …we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google." The degree of sophistication used to penetrate the very advanced defenses of Google was referred to by outside specialists as "staggering." The Chinese reportedly totally penetrated Google's database and password list.

It's important to note that the scope of Chinese operations to invade Western technological mechanisms runs the gamut from what the old East German state security service (Stasi) used to call "schatzi" operations -- sweetheart traps -- to the most advanced E-cyber penetration techniques. Undoubtedly this was what Michael Hayden was hoping to alert commercial travelers and tourists about. The problem is that the Chinese have been using these covert tradecraft techniques in one form or another since long before the days of Marco Polo.

Enticing targets of interest to divulge secrets by the use of bribery, threats, drugs, and sex is just the beginning of the Chinese arsenal of covert weapons. In the same manner Beijing's considerable technological aptitude for exploiting computer and Internet-related vulnerabilities is merely a modern extension of China's ancient skills of espionage. While warning the public of these dangers in dealing with China is worthy, it must be realized that the PRC will continue, one way or another, to pursue what is for China's rulers a politico-cultural verity.

To be realistic it's important to remember that the Chinese have no monopoly on these techniques. But in the end there is always the matter of proficiency -- and will!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.