The glory days of the 1960s through the 1980s, when the United States had global economic, technological and military supremacy are over. Under President Xi Jinping’s rule, China is fast catching up and may now be on a level with the US on every front. While American experts did everything, from brainstorming the concept, doing the research and development, prototype testing and finally, producing, China had it easy – maintain a clandestine den of spies and distribute them everywhere. From open sources in libraries and workplaces to covert spying, Chinese agents are masters in copying and sending back information to Chinese intelligence agencies.
China’s Ministry of State Security is the communist country’s spy agency responsible for intelligence and counter-intelligence. Various sources place its personnel at over 100,000, with over 40,000 overseas and around 50,000 in China. In the US, spies include 1,500 diplomats, 15,000 students who enter every year, and 10,000 as part of visiting delegations yearly. The US is a significant target for China, prioritizing San Francisco and Silicon Valley for their trade and IT information.
One such recently revealed spy is Russell Lowe, a Chinese-American who entered the US on false papers and worked for 20 years in the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the US Congress. During Lowe’s employment period (1993-2013,) Sen. Feinstein was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She retains membership up to the present and is tasked with investigating the Russian plot in the 2016 elections. The senator had claimed no knowledge about Lowe’s espionage activities and denied suggestions that he had access to classified information. This prompted President Trump to mockingly ask her on Twitter if she will now investigate herself.
Oddly enough, Lowe could not be prosecuted for being only a “political spy,” thereby ignoring a report that California is the only state where China’s intelligence has a solid unit concentrated to “political intelligence and influence operations.” Lowe, as chair of the Education for Social Justice Foundation and an active member of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, galvanizes civic-minded groups and individuals into making resolutions for the erection of comfort women statues in the US. The most recent statue is in San Francisco. This led the mayor of Osaka, a major city in Japan, to end its sister-city ties with San Francisco.
Lowe and his cohorts are radical pro-China activists who, like the Russians, aim to strain the trilateral ties of the US and its Asian allies, Japan and South Korea. A weakened United States will bolster China’s aspiration for global dominion. Aside from Lowe, there are almost 30 identified Chinese spies operating in the US in three decades. Many more remain covert. They are mostly Chinese-American individuals stealing trade, technology, and classified military secrets and handing them over to Chinese intelligence agencies. Cyber-theft became so rampant that the US and China had to meet and sign an agreement to stop stealing intellectual property from each other. But not surprisingly, China did not honor its end of the deal.
According to the FBI, some 3,000 American companies were hacked in one year, resulting in a loss of $100 billion in the US economy and more than 500,000 jobs lost due to malicious cyber-activity. Source codes, designs for microchips and microprocessors are only some of the stolen items in technology.
Chinese scientists Guoqing Cao and Shuyu “Dan” Li stole $55 million worth of confidential information from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and sold them to competing Chinese drug maker Jiangsu Hengrui in Shanghai. Three senior employees of Metaldyne Corporation were sentenced to prison terms for stealing company secrets and selling them to a Chinese metal parts maker competitor.
But a more chilling spectacle is China’s infiltration into the US government’s intelligence and military agencies. Its military intelligence arm, the People’s Liberation Army, has sent spies to gather classified national defense information on nuclear weapons, advanced technology for air and sea machinery, space-based systems, and military and political issues.
As far back as 1948, sensitive documents have been passed on to China’s armed forces through Larry Wu-Tai Chin, a Chinese undercover spy who managed to get hired by the CIA and had access to the agency’s reports. Katrina Leung gave sexual favors to FBI agents in exchange for national defense information. Like Lowe, she remained undetected until after 20 years. Physicist Peter Lee is spying activities led to China’s advanced nuclear weapons program, undermining the US’ national security. In 1995, the CIA discovered the theft of the nuclear design of the country’s most sophisticated warhead, the W-88, from a “walk-in” who had possession of documents from China’s nuclear weapons unit. Who stole it has not been known. But Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-American scientist working at California’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, was fired.
These are only some of Beijing’s spies working in the US who have been investigated and prosecuted but somehow got light sentences or were acquitted. But these are signs that Pres. Xi, who Forbes lists as the most powerful person in 2018, dethroning Russia’s Putin, has succeeded in developing a world-class espionage agency. It’s not anymore impossible to conceive that this once reticent Asian nation will soon rise as the world’s largest economy, with the most technological advancement, and having the most powerful military force in weaponry and equipment.
Right now, the United States is not at par with China’s immense foreign intelligence network. President Xi is ambitious and can shell out ample resources to this end. Washington’s task is to reevaluate its priorities in counterintelligence and redirect its focus on China.