Death sentence for Chinese computer technician accused of espionage

Chengdu, ChinaA former computer technician who worked on cryptology has been sentenced to death in China after being found guilty in what some describe as one of the country’s most damaging espionage cases in recent years. The man, Huang Yu, is reportedly a 41-year-old computer expert who worked for a government-funded research institute specializing in cryptology —the science of making and breaking secret codes. He was arrested in 2011 in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China.

According to state-run broadcaster China Central Television, Huang spied on his country from 2002 to 2011, when he was arrested. During that time, he is believed to have sold 150,000 documents to a foreign intelligence agency, in exchange for $700,000. The documents allegedly included 90 reports that were classified as ‘top-secret’, and contained Chinese military codes. Some commentators have described Huang’s espionage as having caused “one of the largest known leaks [of government secrets] in China in recent years”. However, government prosecutors have refused to release information about the foreign spy agency that Huang is accused of having worked for. In addition to giving Huang a death sentence, the court sentenced his wife to five years in prison, while her brother will spend three years behind bars.

Huang’s death sentence is the first delivered in China for espionage since late 2008, when two Chinese scientists were put to death for spying for Taiwan. Some experts believe that Huang’s case signifies an intensification of efforts by the Chinese government to protect its secrets from foreign espionage. These efforts began in 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping enacted new counterespionage legislation featuring harsher penalties for Chinese citizens who work as agents of foreign spy agencies. Earlier this month, the Chinese state marked the country’s first “National Security Education Day”, which included the establishment of a new “counterespionage hotline” designed to accept anonymous tips from citizens about suspected foreign spies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2016 | Permalink

Further arrests in Edward Lin spy case ‘possible’, says US official

Edward LinAn American official has told Newsweek magazine that the possibility of further arrests in the espionage case of United States Navy flight officer Edward Lin should not be ruled out. Last Sunday, the US Navy reported the arrest Lt. Cmdr. Lin, who faces two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, among other charges. Aside from a three-page, heavily redacted charge sheet released by the Navy, almost nothing is known about this case. However, as intelNews opined earlier this week, there are several clues that point to the seriousness of the charges against Lin, and their potential ramifications for US national security, which are likely to be extensive.

On Thursday, longtime intelligence and security correspondent Jeff Stein wrote in Newsweek magazine that Lin appeared to have “scores of friends in sensitive places” in the US and Taiwan. That is not surprising, given that Lin served as the Congressional Liaison for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller, between 2012 and 2014. A cursory survey of Lin’s LinkedIn page, said Stein, shows endorsements by a senior commander at the US Naval Air Station at Guantanamo, Cuba, as well as the US Pacific Fleet’s senior intelligence analyst on Southeast Asia. Other endorsers include Congressional liaison officers for the US Navy, a Taiwanese military attaché, and a former official in Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense.

It is believed that Lin was arrested over eight months ago, but Stein says the investigation, which is being conducted jointly by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still underway. He quotes an unnamed “US official who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing some details of the case” as saying that, given Lin’s extensive contacts in the US intelligence establishment, the possibility of further arrests in the case should not be ruled out. Lin is currently being held in the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2016 | Permalink

Analysis: How serious is the Edward Lin spy case?

Edward LinFor the first time since 1985, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation broke the John Walker spy ring, an active United States Navy officer has been charged with espionage. On Sunday, the US Navy reported the arrest Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, who faces two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, among other charges. Aside from a three-page, heavily redacted charge sheet released by the US Navy, almost nothing is known about this case. However, there are several clues that point to the seriousness of the charges against Lin, and their potential ramifications for US national security, which are likely to be extensive.

Lin was a signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialist with the Navy, focusing on the airborne collection of maritime intelligence, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Given that he is a naturalized citizen from Taiwan and speaks fluent Mandarin, it is almost certain that he was tasked with collecting SIGINT from targets in China and Taiwan. If that is so, then the prospect that Lin may have given classified information to Chinese or Taiwanese intelligence officers will be especially unsettling for Washington. Moreover, Lin is believed to have worked with some of the most advanced airborne intelligence-gathering platforms in the Pentagon’s arsenal, including the MQ-4C Triton, the P-3C Orion, the P-8A Poseidon, and the EP-3 Aries II, which is arguably the most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft ever used by the US Navy.

It also appears that Lin had a relatively senior position in the US Navy’s chain of command. He was a departmental head in the Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, overseeing the work of over 7,000 sailors. Prior to that post, he served as the Congressional Liaison for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller. Lin’s critical positions in the chain of command may explain why US authorities arrested him nearly eight months ago in absolute secrecy and been holding him in pre-trial confinement without releasing any information to the media until last weekend. This level of secrecy in a national security investigation is rare and possibly points to the extent of damage assessment that needed to be completed following Lin’s arrest. Read more of this post

China and Taiwan swap jailed spies in historic first

Ma Ying-jeou and Xi JinpingChina and Taiwan reportedly swapped each other’s imprisoned spies, just days before a historic meeting between their heads of government. It was the first time in the two nations’ history that they have swapped jailed spies with each other. The exchange appears to have taken place in secret in late October, less than two weeks ahead of a historic November 7 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. The meeting, which took place in Singapore, was hailed for its historic significance, as it was the first of its kind since 1949, when the two countries emerged following a bitter civil war between communist and nationalist forces.

News of the spy exchange emerged in the Taiwanese press on Monday, when it was reported that Taipei had released Li Zhihao. Li, a mysterious Chinese intelligence officer known in spy circles as “the man in black”, had been arrested in 1999 after being lured into Taiwan, and was serving a life sentence. He is believed to be 70 years old. In return, Beijing appears to have freed Chu Kung-hsun and Hsu Chang-kuo, two colonels in Taiwan’s Military Information Bureau, who were arrested by mainland China’s counterintelligence nearly a decade ago. At the time of their arrest, the Taiwanese government protested that the two officers had been kidnapped from the Vietnamese side of the Chinese-Vietnamese border. But Beijing had dismissed Taipei’s protestations and had convicted the two men of espionage.

It is worth pointing out that the two Taiwanese officials had initially been sentenced to death, but their sentences were later commuted to 20 years behind bars. It is believed that they were the last Taiwanese military officials held in China for espionage, and that they were the highest-ranked Taiwanese spies imprisoned in China. Their release, therefore, marks an unprecedented development in Chinese-Taiwanese relations, though it should be remembered that dozens of Taiwanese civilians are held in Chinese jails on espionage charges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 December 2015 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink

China announces arrests of Japanese citizens on espionage charges

Liaoning ChinaAuthorities in China announced last week the arrests of two Japanese citizens accused of spying for the national intelligence agency of Japan. According to a spokesman from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two men were been arrested last May “on suspicion of carrying out espionage activities” for Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency. Administered by Japan’s Ministry of Justice, the Public Security Intelligence Agency is tasked with protecting the country’s internal security by collecting intelligence both within and without Japan. The Agency has a long history of organizing human intelligence operations in mainland China.

Following China’s announcement last week, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, who serves as the government’s press secretary, denied that the two men had links with Japanese intelligence. But the Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday that the two men had admitted that they had links with the Public Security Intelligence Agency. Citing unnamed Chinese and Japanese diplomats, Kyodo said the two men were on a mission to collect intelligence about Chinese military facilities, as well as to spy on Chinese military activities in the border regions between China and North Korea. The news agency said that both men were civilians and did not have diplomatic credentials. One of them is believed to be a 51-year-old who travels regularly to China. He was reportedly captured in the vicinity of a military facility in China’s eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. The other man was described by Kyoto as a 55-year-old North Korean defector to Japan; he was detained in the northeast province of Liaoning (photo), near China’s border with North Korea.

Kyoto said it contacted the Public Security Intelligence Agency, but a spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the arrest of the two alleged spies. This is the third instance of arrests of Japanese spies in China on espionage charges since 2005. In the summer of that year, Beijing expelled two Japanese nationals for allegedly stealing military secrets. Five years later, four Japanese citizens were detained in Shijiazhuang, reportedly for spying on a Chinese military base there. All were released within a year of their capture.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink

CIA pulled officers from Beijing embassy following OPM database hack

Office of Personnel ManagementThe Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled a number of officers from the United States embassy in Chinese capital Beijing, after a massive cyber hacking incident compromised an American federal database containing millions of personnel records. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June of this year, when hackers broke into the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles applications for security clearances for agencies of the federal government. The breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans who have filed applications for security clearances —including intelligence officers.

According to sources in the US government, the records of CIA employees were not included in the compromised OPM database. However, that is precisely the problem, according to The Washington Post. The paper said on Wednesday that the compromised OPM records contain the background checks of employees in the US State Department, including those stationed at US embassies or consulates around the world. It follows that US diplomatic personnel stationed abroad whose names do not appear on the compromised OPM list “could be CIA officers”, according to The Post. The majority of CIA officers stationed abroad work under diplomatic cover; they are attached to an embassy or consulate and enjoy diplomatic protection, which is typically invoked if their official cover is blown. However, they still have to present their credentials and be authorized by their host country before they assume their diplomatic post. The CIA hopes that foreign counterintelligence agencies will not be able to distinguish intelligence personnel from actual diplomats.

Although the US has not officially pointed the finger at a particular country or group as being behind the OPM hack, anonymous sources in Washington have identified China as the culprit. If true, The Post’s claim that the CIA pulled several of its officers from the US embassy in Beijing would add more weight to the view that the Chinese intelligence services were behind the cyber theft. The paper quoted anonymous US officials who said that the CIA’s decision to remove its officers from Beijing was directly related to the OPM hack, and it was meant to safeguard their personal security, as well as to protect CIA programs currently underway in China.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 1 October 2015 | Permalink

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