US warns China against use of non-official-cover operatives

Chinese Ministry of State SecurityThe White House has warned the Chinese government to stop deploying on American soil intelligence operatives masquerading as tourists, business executives or other false covers. Nowadays the standard practice for intelligence personnel deployed abroad is to be posted as diplomatic staff in a foreign embassy or consulate. But there are some intelligence officers who do not follow that practice. These are known as non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs in American intelligence parlance. NOCs are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for operating as unregistered agents of a foreign government.

According to The New York Times, a significant number of Chinese NOCs have recently entered the United States as part of the Chinese government’s Operation FOX HUNT. Supervised by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), FOX HUNT is aimed at the thousands of former officials and other fugitives from China, who are alleged to have embezzled funds and are now living abroad, usually in considerable wealth. As part of the MSS operation, teams of intelligence agents are said to have been dispatched around the world in order to hunt down these fugitives, many of whom are believed to have embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds. Chinese media reports claim that nearly 1000 such fugitives have been “repatriated”, either voluntarily or involuntarily, since the launch of FOX HUNT. The tactics used by the Chinese NOCs are not clear, and some suspect that they include direct or indirect threats against the fugitives’ family members in China. Chinese reports have described FOX HUNT operatives as “mostly young, highly skilled”, and accustomed to “rapid-fire deployment” around the world.

The Times said that Washington views the parts of Operation FOX HUNT that take place on US soil as “a departure from the routine practice of secret government intelligence gathering” that both America and China practice against each other. The US, therefore, does not want Chinese officers without official diplomatic credentials, but posing instead as students, tourists or business representatives, engaging in intelligence operations on US soil, said the paper. It added that Washington’s warning had been delivered to Beijing “in recent weeks”. The Times article did not include specific descriptions of FOX RUN activities on American soil.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2015 | Permalink

Is brother of China’s ex-chief of staff seeking to defect to the US?

Ling WanchengA well-connected Chinese businessman, described by officials as potentially one of the most damaging defectors in the history of modern China, is reputed to have requested political asylum in the United States. Ling Wancheng, 54, is the multimillionaire brother of Ling Jihua, a close aide of China’s former premier, Hu Jintao, who rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of China to eventually lead its Central Committee’s General Office. With the help of his brother’s connections and political influence, Ling Wancheng transformed himself from a journalist to an entrepreneur in the early 2000s. Soon after receiving his graduate degree in business administration, he founded an investment firm and joined China’s nouveau riche elite. His wealth, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, coupled with his older brother’s senior position within the Communist Party, made him one of China’s most politically connected entrepreneurs.

However, the Ling family’s fortunes turned dramatically for the worse in March of 2012, when Ling Jihua’s 23-year-old son was killed in a Beijing street while driving a Ferrari after a night of wild partying. Two half-naked women, who were also riding in the car, were seriously injured; one later died of her wounds. The circumstances of the crash, as well as Ling Jihua’s failed efforts to cover it up, were seen as symbolic of a spoiled generation of government officials, whose corrupt practices have isolated the Communist Party from the Chinese populace. Soon afterwards, the new administration of President Xi Jinping initiated a massive anti-corruption campaign as a means of restoring the reputation of the Communist Party. Ling was immediately demoted, cut off from the top echelons of the Chinese government, and in 2014 there were rumors that he would soon be facing a corruption investigation. In July of this year, it was officially announced that Ling had been expelled from the Communist Party and that he would be facing trial on charges of accepting bribes.

The announcement of Ling’s trial stated that he was accused of “accepting certain bribes for himself and on behalf of his family”. But no charges were filed against Ling Wancheng, and there were rumors that he was being pressured by Communist Party officials to testify against his brother. But it appears that the multimillionaire businessman, who owns several properties in the US, was able to flee China and is now in an undisclosed location on US soil. The New York Times, who tried to locate Ling earlier this week, spoke to unnamed American officials, who confirmed that he had indeed fled China and was in the US. The officials refused to confirm that Ling had applied for asylum. But they said that, if he did defect to America, Ling “could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic”, due to his political connections.

The Times added that Beijing had contacted the White House requesting that Ling be extradited to China. But the administration of US President Barack Obama appears unwilling to satisfy the Chinese government’s request, given that Chinese hackers are believed to be responsible for the recent theft of up to 24 million American government workers’ personal data.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2015 | Permalink

CIA using Macau casinos to recruit Chinese officials, says report

Sands casino in Macau ChinaOfficials in China think that United States spy agencies are using casinos in Macau to entrap Chinese government employees, according to a report produced on behalf of an American-owned casino chain in the former Portuguese colony. The report was produced by a private investigator and was commissioned by Sands China, the Macau branch of a casino venture owned by American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. Its goal was to investigate why the Chinese-appointed authorities in Macau were hostile to the gambling industry in general and Sands China in particular.

The report is dated June 25, 2010, and includes a warning that it should not be shared with Chinese officials in Macau or in mainland China. It cites several unnamed officials in China’s Liaison Office, which governs Macau and Hong Kong, as well as sources in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chinese businessmen with close ties to the government in Beijing. It suggests that Beijing is weary of the damage caused to its public image by thousands of its employees gambling away an estimated $2 billion each year in Macau. Additionally, says the report, the central government in Beijing is hostile to the foreign-owned gambling industry in Macau because it believes that it collaborates with Western intelligence agencies. Sands China establishments in Macau, in particular, are believed by the Chinese government to be recruiting grounds for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, says the 2010 report.

Citing “well-placed sources” in the Chinese capital, the report suggests that the fear of espionage is “the primary subject” that causes Beijing’s hostility toward Sands China. It notes that “many of the [Chinese] officials we contacted were of the view that US intelligence agencies […] have penetrated and utilized the casinos [in Macau] to support their operations”. It adds that Chinese counterintelligence agencies have “evidence” that CIA operatives “monitor mainland government officials” who visit Macau to gamble, paying particular attention to those losing large amounts of money, or those visiting Macau without the knowledge of their superiors. They then “lure and entrap” them, forcing them “to cooperate with US government interests”.

The report was uncovered by the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and published on Wednesday in British broadsheet The Guardian. The paper said the report was among a set of documents filed with a court in Las Vegas, where the former head of Sands’ Macau casinos is suing the company for wrongful dismissal. The Guardian contacted the Sands Company, which rejected the contents of the report as “a collection of meaningless speculation”. Its senior vice president for global communications and corporate affairs, Ron Reese, also dismissed the report as “an idea for a movie script”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/23/01-1741/

Macau authorities deny CIA tried to assassinate Snowden

PLA Macao GarrisonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the Chinese region of Macau have denied news reports that Chinese Special Forces averted an attempt by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to kill or capture American defector Edward Snowden. The reports were initially published on March 8 on the website of China News Service, China’s second-largest state-owned news agency after Xinhua. The news agency, which serves China’s Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, said that a secretive unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held a private function to celebrate its success against an alleged attempt by the CIA to kill Snowden. The American former computer expert worked for the CIA and the National Security Agency before defecting to Russia in the summer of 2013. Prior to arriving in Russia, however, Snowden first sought refuge in Hong Kong, where he stayed until June 23.

According to Chinese media reports, the US sent a CIA assassination squad to Hong Kong in mid-June 2013, in an effort to either abduct or kill Snowden. However, the defector’s life was allegedly saved by men from the so-called “Sharp Swords” Special Forces unit of the PLA’s Macao Quick Reaction Platoon. The latter, which is part of the PLA’s Macau Garrison, had reportedly been urgently dispatched to Hong Kong by the Chinese government, in order to guard the high-profile American defector. Some reports suggest that a fierce firefight took place between the Chinese Special Forces troops and the CIA hit squad, which eventually left four CIA officers dead, including “a senior member of the CIA’s network in Hong Kong”. When Snowden transferred to Russia, the PLA unit returned to its base in Macau, where it remains today. Chinese news media alleged that a special “special event” was held in honor of the PLA unit, during which several of its members received “first-class merit awards” for protecting Snowden and neutralizing the alleged CIA operatives.

On Monday, however, the First Secretary of the Security Office of Macau, Wong Sin Chat, told local media that the reports of a PLA award ceremony were “nothing more than rumors”. He added that there had been no attempt by anyone to assassinate Snowden, and noted that, on behalf of Macau’s state authorities, he could “absolutely confirm” that the news reports had been inaccurate. Washington has yet to comment on the allegations.

China’s once all-powerful security chief faces corruption charges

Zhou YongkangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
One of China’s most powerful government figures has been charged with criminal acts, including abuse of power and disclosure of state secrets, in what observers describe as an unprecedented development. At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang, 73, headed China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the country’s security institutions, such as the police, as well as intelligence and paramilitary organs of the state. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. Prior to that he was one of only 9 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Politburo Standing Committee, which serves as the country’s most senior decision-making body.

A highly decorated and immensely wealthy government bureaucrat, Zhou Yongkang has a built an entire network of allies within the ranks of China’s energy industry, from which he gradually rose to the highest echelons of power. Last December, however, state media suddenly reported Zhou’s arrest for “violations of Party discipline”, while a press release from the Communist Party announced the commencement of an investigation into Zhou and his family. Shortly afterwards, and while he was in custody, he was expelled from the Communist Party. On Thursday, a court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin charged Zhou with using his political power and influence to turn the state agencies he supervised into tools for advancing narrow personal interests. In the process, said the court, he violated Communist Party discipline by undermining the central authority of the government and the state.

Zhou is the most senior government official to be charged with corruption since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949. Observers note that his fall from power is part of President Xi Jinping’s much heralded crackdown on government corruption, which aims to improve the popular image of the Communist Party. Others suggest that the president is also trying to consolidate his power base within the Party and dissolve networks of powerful bureaucrats that are critical of his reform plans.

Many of Zhou’s former allies and associates in government are also being investigated as part of a series of related anti-corruption probes. Many of his immediate subordinates were sacked shortly after Zhou was first detained back in December of last year.

Was China behind mystery raids on South African nuclear facilities?

Pelindaba Nuclear Research CenterBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
China is believed to be the culprit of a mysterious armed raid that took place at a South African nuclear facility in 2007, which has puzzled security experts for years, according to classified documents leaked to the media. The raid took place on November 8, 2007, at the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, located outside Johannesburg. That evening, two groups of armed assailants, later described by authorities as “technically sophisticated criminals”, skillfully deactivated numerous layers of physical security around the facility, including a 10,000-volt electrical perimeter fence. They entered the grounds of the nuclear station and fired at an off-duty night guard who saw them and tried to raise the alarm as he was leaving his post. The injured guard managed to summon a police team patrolling nearby, but by the time it arrived the assailants had managed to escape carrying with them a laptop computer stolen from the research facility’s control room. They were never caught despite an extensive investigation by South African authorities.

In the weeks following the raid, South African officials publicly dismissed the incident as the work of small-time criminals. Abdul Minty, the South African representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) described the raid as a “failed burglary”, while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, which owns the Pelindaba facility, said the incident had been simply “a piece of random criminality”. One theory, which was especially popular in American media circles, was that the raid had been conducted by a terrorist group, or by an organized criminal gang employed by a terrorist group, aimed at acquiring nuclear material or designs that would enable them to build a nuclear weapon.

However, television channel Al Jazeera said recently that it had seen a copy of a secret intelligence briefing prepared by South African intelligence, in which it is stated with certainty that the 2007 raid on Pelindaba was ordered by the Chinese government. The Qatar-based news channel said the briefing related to counterespionage and was prepared in 2009. It said that the government of China had dispatched the sophisticated assailants’ team that raided the nuclear facility, and that the operation was part of an effort to steal sensitive technology that would give Beijing an advantage in building a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant as part of its Chinergy project. Chinergy is a massive collaborative effort by the Chinese government and the country’s private sector to reduce China’s reliance on coal and oil by building dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. There was no immediate comment by the Chinese and South African governments.

North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

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