Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia breaks silence to warn of spies

Chen YonglinA Chinese diplomat, who made international news headlines in 2005 when he defected to Australia, has ended a decade of silence to warn about an alleged increase in Chinese espionage operations against his adopted country. Chen Yonglin was a seasoned member of the Chinese diplomatic corps in 2001, when he was posted as a political affairs consul at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Australia. His job was to keep tabs on the Chinese expatriate community in Australia, with an emphasis on individuals and organizations deemed subversive by Beijing. He later revealed that his main preoccupation was targeting members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is illegal in China. He also targeted supporters of Taiwanese independence, as well as Tibetan and East Turkestan nationalists who were active on Australian soil.

But in 2005, Chen contacted the Australian government and said that he wanted to defect, along with his spouse and six-year-old daughter. He was eventually granted political asylum by Canberra, making his the highest-profile defection of a Chinese government employee to Australia in over half a century. During a subsequent testimony given to the Parliament of Australia, Chen said that he was in contact with Australian intelligence and was giving them information about alleged Chinese espionage activities. He said at the time that China operated a network of over 1,000 “secret agents and informants” in Australia. Chen distinguished agents and informants from Chinese intelligence officers, most of whom were stationed in Chinese diplomatic facilities.

Chen, who now works as a businessman, disappeared from the public limelight after his defection. But last weekend, he reappeared after a decade of obscurity and gave an interview to ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster. The ABC journalist reminded Chen that in 2005 he had estimated the number of Chinese agents and informants operating in Australia at 1,000, and asked him how many he thought were active today. Chen responded that an increase in the number is certain, given that “China is now the wealthiest government in the world”. That meant, said Chen, that Beijing has the funds that are necessary to maintain “a huge number of spies” in Australia. However, the former diplomat said that most Chinese agents are “casual informants”, not trained spies, and that they are dormant for long periods of time in between operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 November 2016 | Permalink

Senior anti-corruption official to lead China’s main spy organization

Chen WenqingA senior Chinese official with a leading role in the country’s ongoing anti-corruption crusade has been appointed head of the nation’s spy agency, which has undergone extensive purges in recent years. Chen Wenqing, 56, will be replacing Geng Huichang as Minister of State Security. Geng, 65, will be retiring after nearly a decade at the helm of China’s intelligence and security agency, which is responsible for intelligence collection, counterintelligence and political security. Chen’s appointment was approved on Monday by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. It comes a year after he was appointed as the senior Communist Party representative at the Ministry of State Security.

Chen, a native of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, joined the police force at a young age and rose through the ranks to become the local director of the Ministry of State Security’s local field office. After eight years in that post, he was appointed provincial director of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party’s agency responsible for combating corruption among Party apparatchiks. In 2012, Chen became the youngest-ever deputy director of the CCDI, working under the commission’s chairman, Wang Qishan. From that post, Chen helped lead a massive anti-corruption campaign that resulted in the purging of over 100 senior Communist Party officials on charges of dishonesty and sleaze. Those purged included several senior officials at Ministry of State Security. Among them was Zhou Yongkang, Secretary of China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the country’s security, intelligence and law enforcement institutions. The crackdown also targeted the deputy director of the Ministry of State Security, Ma Jian, and its once-powerful Beijing director, Liang Ke.

In recent years, several officials from the CCDI, who are seen by many as uncorrupted and incorruptible, have filled the positions of former Ministry of State Security bureaucrats who were fired during the government’s anti-corruption campaign. Chens’ appointment makes him the third senior CCDI official to be appointed to a senior post in the Ministry of State Security. Some experts believe that Chen’s move affirms the growing power of the CCDI, which has been the main implementation vehicle of President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anticorruption campaign that has gripped China since his rise to power in 2012.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 November 2016 | Permalink

Holland suspends its ambassador to China due to suspected honey trap

Holland Embassy in ChinaThe Dutch government has suspended its ambassador to China and has launched an official investigation into an alleged secret relationship between the ambassador and a female Chinese employee at the Dutch embassy. The ambassador, Ron Keller, is a career diplomat and senior member of the Dutch foreign service corps, who has served in Russia and Turkey among other international posts. He assumed duties as Holland’s ambassador to China in late 2015. In December of that year, he arrived in Beijing and took command of one of the largest Dutch embassies in the world.

Last weekend, however, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Keller had been suspended from his post after it was alleged that he had a secret affair with an employee at the embassy. The employee, whose name has not been released, is reportedly a female Chinese national. Her position at the embassy is not known, but is thought to be of a clerical nature. Foreign diplomats stationed in China —whether married or single— are routinely warned to avoid having intimate relationships with Chinese nationals due to concerns that the latter may be in the service of Chinese intelligence. Some refer to this practice as a ‘honey trap’.  In 2011, Taiwan suffered its most serious espionage case in over half a century when it was revealed that the director of the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information fell for a “tall, beautiful and chic” Chinese female operative, who held an Australian passport, but later turned out to be a Chinese intelligence officer. In 2014, a leaked British military report warned United Kingdom government officials of attempts by Chinese intelligence services to compromise them using sexual entrapment.

De Telegraaf said it contacted the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Keller’s suspension. In a statement, the ministry confirmed the diplomat’s suspension but said that it could not comment on the case. The newspaper reported that Keller is currently back in Holland and that his return to Beijing in an official capacity is not likely.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2016 | Permalink

Is Chinese salvage ship searching for flight MH370 spying on Australia?

DONG HAI JIU 101The Chinese embassy in Canberra has strongly denied accusations that a Chinese government ship involved in the international effort to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is spying on the Royal Australian Navy. The ship, the Dong Hai Jiu 101, is a salvage and rescue vessel built in Shanghai in 2012 and currently sailing under the Chinese flag. In April, the Chinese government contracted the Dong Hai Jiu 101 to join the international search effort for the wreckage of Flight MH370. The Boeing 777 aircraft disappeared over the South China Sea on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, to the Beijing Capital International Airport in China.

Only a few pieces of debris, purportedly belonging to the plane, have been found, despite the most extensive and costly search in aviation history. The coordinated international search began off the coast of Thailand last year and is currently focused on the seabed off the city of Perth in Western Australia. The Dong Hai Jiu 101 has been sailing in the area since April of this year, along with three other search and rescue vessels. Last week, however, The Australian newspaper published interviews with several security experts who expressed the opinion that the Dong Hai Jiu 101 may be collecting intelligence on Australia for the Chinese government. The alleged intelligence collection is probably of maritime nature and probably involves hydrophonic instrumentation to track submarine movements, said the experts.

But the Chinese government responded quickly, issuing a strong denial through its embassy in Canberra. An embassy spokesman reminded The Australian that 154 of 239 passengers and crew on Flight MH370 were Chinese, and therefore Beijing has a “strong obligation” to participate in the international search effort. Additionally, said the statement, the Chinese vessel is sailing off the Australian coast with the consent of the Australian government, and in coordination with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, using underwater search equipment supplied by an American-based company. The Australian government has not made a statement on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 September 2016 | Permalink

India expels high-profile Chinese journalists, allegedly for spying

Wu XiangFor the first time in history, India has refused to extend temporary residency visas for three senior Chinese media correspondents, effectively expelling them from the country, allegedly for espionage activities. All three reporters are employees of China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. They include Xinhua’s bureau chief in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Wu Xiang, and the agency’s Mumbai bureau chief, Lu Tang. A third journalist, She Yonggang, also based in Mumbai, has been asked to leave India by no later than July 31.

According to several Indian news media, the decision to refuse visa renewals for the Chinese journalists was taken after Indian intelligence agencies confirmed that the three were engaging in activities that “were incompatible with their journalistic capacity”. The phrase typically refers to espionage and related activities. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the Chinese reporters have been officially asked to leave the country by the end of this month. All three are reportedly reputable experts in Indian affairs. Xinhua’s Mumbai bureau chief, Lu Tang, is typical: a fluent Hindi speaker and Jawaharlal Nehru University graduate, she specializes in Indo-Chinese relations and has written for some of Asia’s most best known publications.

Indian sources have not confirmed that the decision to expel the journalists relates to espionage activities. Government officials insist that the three had let their visas expire four months ago and were staying in India based on temporary fortnightly extensions. The Indian government simply made the decision not to renew the journalists’ already expired visas, they said. When asked about his impending expulsion, Xinhua’s New Delhi bureau chief, Wu Xiang, said he and his two colleagues had not been given a reason for the Indian government’s refusal to extend their visas. Indian officials told reporters that Xinhua would be allowed to replace the three reporters’ posts. The Chinese government has not yet responded to the news of the expulsions. There are reportedly five Indian journalists working in China for Indian news agencies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 July 2016 | Permalink

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