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March 26, 2012: Taiwan recently arrested one of their air force officers (a captain) and accused him of spying for China. That's the fourth Taiwanese to be arrested for spying in the last 15 months. China is using bribes (cash and favors) to recruit Taiwanese to spy, as well as threats against business or family interests in China. All this is becoming a serious problem for Taiwan.

For example, last year a man identified as Mr. Lai tried to obtain information (about the Patriot air defense system) from an officer connected with Taiwan's Patriot units. The officer reported the contact and Lai was arrested. Lai then confessed that he had been recruited while working (as many Taiwanese do) in China.

Chinese espionage in Taiwan is usually more successful. Two years ago, for example, Lo Chi Cheng, an army colonel, was arrested for spying. Then there was a Taiwanese businessman (Lo Pin) who had business in China and spied on China. It turned out that the businessman was really a double agent, who had recruited colonel Lo, who then obtained classified information that was delivered to China. The government insisted that the data lost was inconsequential but then that's what is normally said in such situations. Colonel Lo was sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Lo, it turned out, was caught by the Chinese while spying for Taiwan in China. In order to escape execution Mr. Lo agreed to become a double agent.

Many of the recent Chinese espionage efforts have been directed at Taiwanese military command and control systems. Taiwan has a communications and information system that allows the army, navy, and air force to communicate and share information in real time. The Patriot air defense system is part of that command and control network. If the Chinese can hack into the Patriot network they can get into the larger command and control system.

China and Taiwan have been spying on each other for over 60 years. The espionage activity has greatly increased as the Chinese economy shifted to a market model in the last three decades and Taiwan was allowed to invest in China. The Taiwanese thought this would be an intelligence gold mine but it's hard to say for whom.

Six years ago a confident China released a lot of information about how Taiwan recruits spies inside China. Taiwan uses the Internet, trolling chat rooms and bulletin boards, as well as emailing likely candidates, and even using online ads. Actually, the Taiwanese are simply doing openly what the Chinese have been doing clandestinely for decades. The Taiwanese were not asking for anything that one would think of as state secrets. Mainly, they asked for unclassified magazines and documents that, because of their specialized nature, are only going to be found in China.

However, in China, which is still basically a communist police state, and bureaucrats can declare as espionage anything they want. As a result, if you are in China you can have the secret police on your case for anything. Chinese bureaucrats do just that and the accused ends up in prison, or worse. So, while China feels free to collect unclassified material in foreign countries, don't try and do it in China.

Apparently, the Chinese ordered the media to publicize this nefarious Taiwanese plot in order to discourage Chinese from getting involved. Then again, it will also make more Chinese aware of a new way to make money easily, if a bit dangerously. Meanwhile, every few months, spies are regularly arrested on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, indicating that Chinese and Taiwanese spies are hard at work, despite the dangers (long prison terms and, in China, execution for the worst offenders).

All this espionage is mainly a business, with cash or favors exchanged for valuable data. Some spies do it out of altruism (patriotism, anti-communism, whatever), but for most it's just business, a very dangerous business.

 

 


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