Intelligence: June 29, 2001

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It's no secret that China is constantly seeking to obtain secret technology overseas. So open are the Chinese about this that they have an unclassified, 250 page book available to their government officials. "Sources and Techniques of Obtaining National Defense Science and Technology Intelligence" was written by two veteran Chinese intelligence officials. There are two distinctive characteristics of Chinese spying. First, they don't use many professionals. Basically, they expect every Chinese who goes overseas or meets foreigners in China to collect information. And they expect the "volunteers" to do it for free. Well, there is some compensation. When any Chinese seeks something from the government, be it a permit to start a business, a visa to study overseas or anything else, previous performance as a volunteer spy is a big plus. The second unique characteristic of Chinese spying is that they expect to collect information in pieces, often tiny pieces, which are then painstakingly assembled by more "volunteers" in the appropriate agency. An example would be, say, technical details of an advanced American fighter radar. These systems are often not exported and considered classified material. But thousands of people design, build, install and maintain these systems. Many of the advanced technologies in such a radar are not classified and are used in commercial radars, or other types of electronic equipment. The Chinese realize this and gather bits and pieces of information collected by their volunteer spies until they have enough of the secret technology for their own radar designers to reproduce all, or most, of the capabilities of the American radar. This has already been seen in many Chinese military technologies that are similar to U.S. stuff, but not identical. The Chinese do not expect to steal one of the radars, but with thousands of conversations, emails, news stories and other seemingly useless bits of data. To the Chinese, no piece of information is useless. The Chinese expect to get 80 percent of their information legally, from open sources (trade magazines, sales brochures, trade shows and so on.) The other 20 percent is illegal, but is so low key that it's difficult to protect against. For example, any time an American scientist is invited to China to lecture, the Chinese make sure the American is constantly running into English speaking scientists in the same field. The Chinese just let nature take its course, Get scientists or engineers together and they just love to talk shop. These guys (the vast majority are men) love to solve problems and, if left to their own devices, will swap findings and techniques pretty freely. After the American goes home, Chinese intelligence officials sit down and have a chat with all the Chinese who spoke with the American. Its amazing how much classified data can be picked up this way. The FBI, which is in charge of counterintelligence, is having a hard time trying to cope with this. In fact, at this point, there is no real solution for countering the masses of Chinese volunteer spies.

 


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