China Continues Espionage Against the USA

Four arrests linked to Chinese spy ring

Bill Gertz (WaTimes) reports on the latest Chinese espionage discovered.

Four persons arrested in Los Angeles are part of a Chinese intelligence-gathering ring, federal investigators said, and the suspects caused serious compromises for 15 years to major U.S. weapons systems, including submarines and warships.
U.S. intelligence and security officials said the case remains under investigation but that it could prove to be among the most damaging spy cases since the 1985 one of John A. Walker Jr., who passed Navy communication codes to Moscow for 22 years.
The Los Angeles spy ring has operated since 1990 and has funneled technology and military secrets to China in the form of documents and computer disks, officials close to the case said.

That makes it at least 15 years of covert actions against the USA. And they were arrested at LAX, boarding a plane out of the country, with CDs containing defense secrets. Boiling this down, the Chinese government is trying to steal military technologies they cannot develop themselves.

Key compromises uncovered so far include sensitive data on Aegis battle management systems that are the core of U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers.
China covertly obtained the Aegis technology and earlier this year deployed its first Aegis warship, code-named Magic Shield, intelligence officials have said.
The Chinese also obtained sensitive data on U.S. submarines, including classified details related to the new Virginia-class attack submarines.
Officials said based on a preliminary assessment, China now will be able to track U.S. submarines, a compromise that potentially could be devastating if the United States enters a conflict with China in defending Taiwan.
Mr. Chi, an electrical engineer, also had access to details on U.S. aircraft carriers and once was aboard the USS Stennis.

There are a couple of “gross conceptional errors†here. The stolen technology will not necessarily allow the Chinese to track (future) US submarines, rather it could allow them to build submarines the US cannot track (which could be a major coup). And as for “being†on an aircraft carrier, that proves nothing. I’ve been on several USSR naval ships (just before the USSR imploded), noted. Just because I was on them does not mean an advantage to anyone. But as for the Aegis knowledge, that could be important (or could be obvious today). To give a comparison, Aegis is like having a network, whereas before all you had were stand-alone computers. In 1995 that was breaking technology, today? But the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t is important.

There are two factors of technological espionage here:
РGaining knowledge of other̢۪s systems to counteract them
РGaining knowledge of other̢۪s systems to copy them
My belief is that China is in the copy mode here (Russia would be in both).

All four persons were arrested yesterday and charged with theft of government property. Law-enforcement officials said that the charges are expected to be upgraded to espionage or espionage-related once the nature of the information involved is fully investigated.

Can’t be charged with treason; doesn’t meet the US Constitution definition. But the real question is what will the Bush Administration do about an obvious case of espionage conducted by the Chinese military? Twenty or thirty years ago this would have been cause for the suspension of diplomatic relations. Today, China holds many T-Bills. Maybe there is a Democratic issue here to accuse the Republicans of being blackmailed by the Chinese.

Investigators seized hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and computer data from Mr. Chi’s home in Downey, Calif., after the arrest.
Mr. Chi and his wife were born in China and are naturalized American citizens. Mr. Tai and his wife are resident aliens who came to the United States from China in May 2001.
The arrests were made after electronic surveillance revealed Mr. Tai and his wife planned to travel to Guangzhou, China, to pass to Chinese officials several CDs that contained Navy weapons data, specifically information on Quiet Electric Drive (QED) systems used in Navy warships, officials said. An FBI affidavit in the case described the QED technology as “extremely sensitive” and banned from export….
“They were funneling information to 2 PLA,” one official said, referring to the military intelligence unit of the People’s Liberation Army. “The Chinese now know more about our military than we know about their entire country.”

I would call that unnamed official’s statement an overstated generality (and an apples to oranges comparison to boot), but the fact remains that Chinese military is conducting covert operations to obtain the latest classified military technologies. The QED systems referred to above are not yet even used in Navy warships per the Office of Naval Research. Global Security reports similarly.

From the UPI report we have

Among rubbish in his home, agents found shredded Chinese documents, which they reconstructed, containing instructions to Mak Chi to join professional associations and participate in seminars with “special subject matter.”
One directed him to gather information on a number of military technologies, including space-based military systems

That sounds horrible, or naive. These instructions are something akin to “bring me a shrubbery.” Very vague.

I fear we have only found a few out of thousands of agents, as these seem inept.

As Kipesquire states in his daily “Fact of the Day†postings, “China is still a dictatorship.†And what if this report is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Chinese espionage attempts?

Espionage did not end with the end of the Cold War. Russia does it (the latest is Toshiba yet again) , China does it, and the USA does it. And today, increasingly, corporations do it.

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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. Jules says:

    I believe this is real and I am afraid the administration is not doing sth to stop this.Are they blind?

  2. Just Me says:

    It was real during the Clinton years, we turned a blind eye, and I think this is real too.

    Not good for the US. The US should take a strong stand.

    But I suspect we will wimp out.

  3. David Foster says:

    Notice the sparse media coverage of this, as opposed to the hysterical coverage levels devoted to Plamegate.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Not having seen the data on those CDs, I can’t say for certain, but I can speculate that there is data that permits China to better track (and, presumably, hunt) US submarines.

    The data could include information of sound/sonar signatures of US subs. This is handy for other US Navy assets to have, in order to prevent blue-on-blue accidents.

    But in hostile hands it also serves as an identifier of potential targets.

  5. Barry says:

    David Foster: “Notice the sparse media coverage of this, as opposed to the hysterical coverage levels devoted to Plamegate.”

    Can’t imagine why. After all, top administration officials betraying the US for political gain is not nearly as important as the fact that foreign powers will – gasp!!! shock!!! – spy on us.

  6. ATM says:

    Barry, you are an idiot. No adminstration betrayed the US for political gain in the Plame affair, because explaining how Wilson got his little vacation through largely because of his wife Plame is not a betrayal of the US. On the otherhand we know that Clinton adminstration figures did betray the country for political gain with regards to China. They accepted campaign contributions funnelled from Chinese military sources and ignored dual use technology transfer to China by US corporations. The obvious implications for national security of the Chinese espionage are far more severe than exposing the identity of a current CIA desk jockey who hasn’t worked overseas for over five years because she has been repeatedly exposed due to actual betrayals and also because of CIA incompetance. I would further argue that if Plame and the CIA was truly concerned about keeping her identity secret they would not have allowed her husband to start leaking to the press knowledge that he could have only gained through his wife.

  7. malt whiskman says:

    //Today, China holds many T-Bills.

    So what? This silly argument that won’t go away doesn’t withstand even a cursory look. If China dumps the US market overboard, don’t you understand that China’s workforce would get back a severe punch in the gut? No, China cannot afford to stagnate now with its weak consumer class and protesting underemployed migrants.

  8. Bager 1968 says:

    Since this could embarrass both parties equally (started under a Republican administration, gained scope & depth in 8 years under Democrats, and is finally uncovered 5 years into another Republican administration), it is automatically invisible to most media reporters and editors and ALL politicians!

    In the current atmosphere, everything that affects the whole country equally is ignored, while anything, no matter how minor, that can be used as political ammunition is hyped as far as the public can tolerate… and then a touch more, just to be sure we “get the message”… “the other party is incompetent/untrustworthy/lying/the source of all evil in the world”!