Intelligence: The China Advantage

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June 28, 2011: In Taiwan, the arrest of another Chinese spy was recently reported. In this case, no sensitive information was lost. But 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. Last year, 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 recently sentenced to life in prison. Mr Lo's case is still in the courts, although it has come out that he was caught, by the Chinese, while spying for Taiwan in China. In order to escape execution, Mr Lo agreed to become a double agent.

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.

Five 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 dictatorship, and bureaucrats can declare as espionage anything they want, 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 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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