New details about FBI probe that led to Chinese spy’s conviction
May 19, 2014 Leave a comment
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Some of our longtime readers will recall the case of Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a Chinese-born American engineer for Boeing, who was convicted in 2009 of passing US space program secrets to China. The case is arguably far more important than it might have seemed at the time, as Chung was technically the first American to be jailed for economic espionage. Many at the Federal Bureau of Investigation view the Chung conviction as a landmark case for providing clear legal proof of Chinese espionage in the US. Little is known, however, about how the FBI managed to uncover Chung’s espionage activities, which are believed to have gone on for nearly three decades. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Yudhijit Bhattachargjee reveals for the first time the fascinating background of how the Bureau got to Chung. It did so through another American engineer of Chinese origin, named Chi Mak. Unlike Chung, who was ideologically committed to Maoism and was recruited by Chinese intelligence after immigrating to the US, Mak was an accredited intelligence operative who was allegedly specifically planted in the US by the Chinese. He came to America from Hong Kong in 1979 and worked for California-based defense contractor Power Paragon. He almost immediately began stealing secrets relating to US Navy systems. The FBI first started monitoring Mak and his wife, Rebecca, in 2004, following a tip. The effort evolved in one of the Bureau’s biggest counterintelligence cases, involving elaborate physical and electronic surveillance that lasted for nearly 18 months. During that time, FBI and Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents installed surveillance cameras outside the Maks’ residence, followed the suspects around, and monitored their telephone calls. Eventually, the surveillance team managed to acquire a warrant allowing them to clandestinely enter the Maks’ home and conduct a secret search. The nondestructive entry team discovered numerous stacks of secret documents “some two or three feet high” all around the suspects’ house. Among the findings was an address book containing the names of other engineers of Chinese origin living in the state of California. That, says Bhattachargjee, was the first time the FBI came across Chung’s name. During a subsequent covert entry into Mak’s house, the surveillance team installed a surveillance camera. The information collected from the camera led the FBI to Mak’s younger brother, Tai Mak, who had been living in the US since 2001, along with his wife, Fuk Li, and their two children. It turned out that Tai was acting as a courier, transporting to China various pieces of intelligence collected by his brother. The FBI eventually managed to arrest Tai and his wife at the Los Angeles International Airport as he was preparing to leave the US, carrying an encrypted CD with secret documents stolen by his brother. In 2007, Chi Mak was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison, Tai Mak to 10 years, and Chi’s wife, Rebecca, to three years. The remaining members of the two families were deported to China.