Intelligence: April 23, 2003


: Two unnamed former Russian military pilots were accused of "high treason in the form of espionage" by the Federal Security Service last week. They used their old connections to illegally acquire spare military equipment parts and secret information on Russian aviation equipment to sell to Chinese buyers. Eleven groups of counterintelligence officers waited several days, in order to sweep up all of the suspects. The results of the counterintelligence operation were reported to President Putin.

The Russian Far East, between Manchuria in the west and the Sea of Japan in the east, is a hotbed of Chinese spying. There is no recollection among Russian counterintelligence types in the Far East of capturing even one American (or even Japanese) spy. But the Russians have caught Koreans: both a North Korean worker and South Korean consulate employee were caught red-handed buying a Russian assault rifle that fires under water. 

However, Chinese agents are caught with enviable regularity. Last year in Khabarovsk, an agent (a Russian army captain) was caught trying to take out secret ejector seat blueprints from an aviation plant manufacturing Su attack aircraft.

The Chinese are not only interested in secrets, but are involved in the direct theft of military equipment which are already known to the Chinese. In addition to incidents involving Moskit cruise missiles already on two modern late-generation destroyers built for China, an attempt to transport tanks and helicopters was recently prevented. Counterintelligence officers believe that this smuggling goes beyond individuals, since weapons acquired in this manner can be a hundred times less expensive than official purchases. 

In addition to increasing their stockpiles of spares, the Chinese could field new systems that the Russians can not afford to follow through on. According to one recent report, China has been developing a new main battle tank since the early 1990s that would be the most powerful vehicle of its type in the world. The description sounds suspiciously like the Russian T-95, of which there have never been unclassified images. At least one source has indicated that Russia has supplied some of the technology for the Chinese project, in order to earn foreign currency to fund its own tank programs. Whether that deal was official or under the table is another unanswered question. - Adam Geibel


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