[ISN] China's Big Export - When it comes to spying, Beijing likes to flood the zone

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Mon Feb 14 05:25:30 EST 2005


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Feb. 13, 2005

Ning Wen and his wife were arrested last fall at their home office in
Manitowoc, Wis., for allegedly sending their native China $500,000
worth of computer parts that could enhance missile systems. As these
naturalized citizens await trial, similar episodes in Mount Pleasant,
N.J., and Palo Alto, Calif., point only to the tip of the iceberg,
according to FBI officials keeping tabs on more than 3,000 companies
in the U.S. suspected of collecting information for China. A hotbed of
activity is Silicon Valley, where the number of Chinese espionage
cases handled by the bureau increases 20% to 30% annually. Says a
senior FBI official: "China is trying to develop a military that can
compete with the U.S., and they are willing to steal to get [it]."

But instead of assigning one well-trained agent to pursue a target,
"the Chinese are very good at putting a lot of people on just a little
piece and getting a massive amount of stuff home," says a U.S.  
intelligence official. The number of Chinese snoops is staggering, if
only because average civilians are enlisted in the effort. FBI
officials say state security agents in China debrief many visitors to
the U.S. before and after their trips, asking what they saw and
sometimes telling them what to get.

The FBI, severely criticized for its investigation of physicist Wen Ho
Lee in the mid-'90s, has added hundreds more counterintelligence
agents and put at least one in every Energy Department research
facility. The bureau also started cooperation initiatives with
corporations, but still sees universities as a soft spot, with some
150,000 Chinese currently studying in the U.S. The FBI's three most
recent counterintelligence arrests were of suspects who had held
student visas at some point. To help sort the few who go to America to
spy from the thousands who go there for a better life, the FBI relies
heavily on Chinese informants. Says a high-ranking Silicon Valley
agent: "We have almost more assets than we can deal with."

- With reporting by Timothy J. Burger and Elaine Shannon

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