Intelligence: June 16, 2001

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Intelligence agencies like to set up commercial operations, especially trading or transportation companies, to assist in their operations. One of the more famous ones was the CIA's "Air America," an air transport company operating in southeast Asia for thirty years (1955-75). Chinese intelligence established shipping company Cosco in 1985, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese armed forces. Cosco operates ships and port facilities all over the world, even in the United States and Panama. Campaign contributions to Bill Clinton got Cosco access to the White House, and freedom from any pesky investigations of Cosco activities. But with Clinton gone, and Cosco still doing business as usual, Cosco is now under the federal microscope. The latest incident was three arms shipments to Cuba, delivered by Cosco ships. This is nothing unusual, because Cosco ships have always been used for transporting Chinese arms exports. But there is a United States law that calls for sanctions against any nation or company that ships arms to China. But the State Department has ruled that the material delivered to Cuba wasn't military enough to trigger the sanctions. The Chinese military and Chinese arms industry find Cosco very useful, and try to protect Cosco by denying that Cosco has any financial relationship with the Chinese government. Attempts to thwart Cosco, if only to hobble Chinese intelligence work, will hinge on proving the connection between Cosco and the Chinese government (which admits it owns all the Cosco common stock.)

 


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