US evacuates more diplomats from China over ‘abnormal sounds and symptoms’

US consulate in GuangzhouThe United States has evacuated at least two more diplomatic personnel from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, after they experienced “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. The latest evacuations come two weeks after the US Department of State disclosed that a consulate worker in Guangzhou had been flown home for medical testing, in response to having experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”.

The evacuations from China have prompted comparisons to similar phenomena that were reported by US diplomatic personnel in Cuba in 2016. Last September, Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. These actions were taken in response to allegations by the US Department of State that at least 21 of its diplomatic and support staff stationed in Cuba suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, causing them to be diagnosed with brain injuries. In April, the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana over similar health concerns.

US State Department sources told The New York Times on Wednesday that the two latest evacuees were among approximately 179 American diplomats and consular personnel stationed in Guangzhou, one of China’s largest commercial hubs. The city of 14 million, located 70 miles north of Hong Kong, hosts one of Washington’s six consulates in China. The building that houses the US consulate was presented to the public in 2013 as a state-of-the-art construction, which, as The Times reports, is “designed to withstand electronic eavesdropping and other security and intelligence threats”. The paper said that one Guangzhou consular employee that was evacuated this week is Mark A. Lenzi, who works as a security engineering officer. He is reported to have left China along with his wife and two children. An unnamed senior US official told The Times that a State Department medical team arrived in Guangzhou on May 31, and is currently examining all diplomatic personnel and their families.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2018 | Permalink

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Facebook shared user data with Chinese firm despite warnings by US intelligence

HuaweiThe online social media company Facebook shares data about its users with a Chinese telecommunications company that has been flagged in United States government reports as a threat to security. The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that Facebook has been routinely giving access to the private data of its users to four Chinese companies since at least 2010. The paper said that the data-sharing agreement with Lenovo, Oppo, TCL, and Huawei Technologies, has its roots in 2007. That was the year when Facebook began an effort to entice cell phone hardware and software manufacturers to include Facebook-friendly apps and features in their products. As part of the agreement, Facebook gave cell phone manufacturers access to its users’ private data, including “religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status”, said the Times.

However, several sources in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other governments, have repeatedly flagged Huawei as a company that is uncomfortably close to the Chinese government and its intelligence agencies. In 2011, the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, became the first US government agency to openly link Huawei with the Chinese intelligence establishment. It said that Huawei relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security, which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. In 2013, the British government launched an official review of Huawei’s involvement in the UK Cyber Security Evaluations Centre in Oxfordshire, England, following a British Parliament report that raised strong concerns about the Chinese company’s links with the government in Beijing. And last year the Australian government expressed concern about Huawei’s plan to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources.

In a statement, Facebook said that all data shared with Huawei remained stored on users’ phones and was not downloaded on the Chinese’ company’s private servers. It also said that it would “phase out” the data-sharing agreement with Huawei by the middle of June. The Times noted on Tuesday that Facebook has been officially banned in China since 2009. However, the social media company has been trying to make a comeback in the Chinese market, by cultivating close links with Chinese Communist Party officials. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited China in October of last year, and met with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and other senior officials.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 2018 | Permalink

Chinese influence in New Zealand threatens intelligence-sharing, says Canadian report

CSIS canadaChina’s influence in New Zealand is so extensive that it threatens the traditionally close intelligence contacts between New Zealand and its Western allies, according to a report written by the Canadian spy agency. Since World War II, New Zealand has been a member of what is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement. Known also as the UKUSA Agreement or the Five Eyes alliance, the pact, which was strengthened in 1955, provides a multilateral framework for intelligence cooperation between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But a new report produced by Canadian intelligence warns that Chinese political and economic influence in New Zealand is making it difficult for the Pacific Ocean island country to continue to operate within the framework of the agreement.

The report, entitled China and the Age of Strategic Rivalry, was authored by experts at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It contains a summary of views expressed by participants at an academic outreach workshop that was organized in Canada by the CSIS. In a section focusing on Chinese “interference in democratic systems”, the report suggests that, despite its small size, New Zealand is “valuable to China […] as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence”. In recent years, claims the report, Beijing has adopted “an aggressive strategy” that has sought to co-opt political and economic elites in New Zealand as a means of influencing political decision making in the country. As part of that process, China seeks to gain advantages in trade and business negotiations, suppress negative views of China, facilitate espionage and control the views of the Chinese expatriate community in New Zealand, according to the report. Ultimately, Beijing seeks to “extricate New Zealand from […] its traditional [military and intelligence] partners]” as a means of asserting its regional and —eventually— global influence, the report concludes.

In a separate but connected development, it emerged this week that China expert Peter Mattis told an American Congressional committee last month that New Zealand’s position in the Five Eyes alliance was tenuous due to China’s influence. Mattis, a former China analyst for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, was speaking before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group of experts that advise the US Congress. He told the Commission that the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in New Zealand is so deep that it raises questions about whether the Pacific Ocean country can continue to share intelligence with the other members of the Five Eyes alliance.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphatically dismissed questions about her country’s role in the Five Eyes alliance. She told reporters in Wellington that the issue of New Zealand’s Five Eyes membership had “never been raised” with her “or anyone else” by Five Eyes partners. Ardern added that her government received its information “from official channels, not opinions expressed at a workshop”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May 2018 | Permalink

France arrests two intelligence officers on charges of spying for China

dgse franceFrance has confirmed the arrest of two French intelligence officers who are accused of spying for the Chinese government. It appears that the two officers were captured and charged in December. However, their arrests were not publicized at the time, because French counterintelligence officials wanted to avoid alerting more members of a possible spy ring, which some say may include up to five French citizens. It was only last Friday, a day after French media published leaked reports of the arrests, that the French government spoke publicly about the case.

France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, told France’s CNews television on Friday that two French intelligence officers were “accused of extremely serious acts of treason” against the French state. The two officers had been charged with delivering classified information to a foreign power”, she said. Parly added that the spouse of one of the officers was also being investigated for participating in acts of espionage on behalf of a foreign country. When asked to identify the country that the two officers are accused of spying for, the minister refused to respond. But the Agence France Presse news agency cited an anonymous “security source”, who said that the two intelligence officers were being suspected of spying for China and that they had been captured following a sting operation by French counterintelligence officers.

French television station TFI1 said on Friday that both spy suspects are officers in the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), France’s primary external intelligence agency. The station added that at least one of the two suspects was stationed at the embassy of France in Beijing when French counterintelligence became aware of the alleged espionage. According to some reports, the two suspects had retired from the DGSE by the time they were arrested, but committed their alleged espionage while still in the service of the spy agency. French government officials have refused to provide information about the length of the alleged espionage or the nature of the classified information believed to have been compromised. Additionally, no information is available about whether the two alleged spies were working in cooperation with each other. The BBC asked China last week about the arrests in France, but the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not aware of the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2018 | Research credit: E.W. and P.C.  | Permalink

US alerts its diplomatic staff in China over ‘abnormal sounds and symptoms’

US Department of StateThe United States Department of State has warned its personnel stationed in China of the danger of experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises”. The warning, issued on May 23, has prompted comparisons to similar phenomena that were reported by US diplomatic personnel in Cuba in 2016. Last September, Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. These actions were taken in response to allegations made by the United States that at least 21 of its diplomatic and support staff stationed in Cuba suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearings, causing them to be diagnosed with brain injuries. In April, the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana, over similar health concerns.

Now a similar warning has been issued by the US Department of State for its staff stationed in China. In a statement, the Department said that a member of staff at its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou reported experiencing “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”. The unnamed individual reportedly suffered these physical symptoms between late 2017 and April 2018, said the statement. At that time, the individual was flown back to the US where they eventually were diagnosed with “mild traumatic brain injury”. The statement went on to state that the cause of these symptoms remains unknown, and that the US government has no information about other such incidents affecting Americans in China.

Late on Wednesday, however, speaking before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US House of Representatives, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the incident in China was “medically similar” to the 2016 incidents in Cuba. Some US government sources have blamed these medical symptoms on unspecified “sonic weapon attacks” from a foreign country, aimed at US diplomatic facilities.  But Washington has so far refrained from accusing China of having a role in such attacks, either in Cuba or in China itself. Pompeo said on Wednesday that Washington had dispatched a medical team to Guangzhou to inspect American diplomats stationed there. The Chinese government said yesterday that it was probing the incident “in a very responsible manner” and “would protect the lawful rights and interest of foreigners in China”. However, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, warned that the case in Guangzhou should not be “magnified, complicated or even politicized” by Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 May 2018 | Research credit: Nikki P. | Permalink

China gave ex-CIA officer “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash” to spy on US

 Chinese Ministry of State SecurityChinese intelligence operatives gave a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash” in exchange for carrying out espionage, according to court papers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, on January 15, accusing him of possessing classified information that included lists of real names of foreign assets and addresses of CIA safe houses. Lee, 53, was reportedly arrested after a lengthy FBI sting operation, which included creating a fictional job in the US in order to entice Lee to travel to New York from Hong Kong, where he had been living after leaving the CIA in 2007.

Lee is now scheduled to appear before a US circuit court judge on Friday morning, in order to be officially charged with one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government and two counts of unlawfully retaining information pertaining to national defense. According to the indictment, in April of 2010 Lee met two officers of China’s Ministry of State Security. The meeting allegedly took place in Shenzhen, a city in southern China that borders Hong Kong. During that encounter, the indictment claims that Lee was offered “a gift of $100,000 in cash” in exchange of providing the Ministry of State Security with information about his career in the CIA. He was also told by the two Chinese intelligence officers that China would “take care of him for life” if he continued to cooperate with them.

In May of 2010, Lee deposited about $17,000 into one of his HSBC accounts in Hong Kong. Court documents allege that the deposit was the first of many that followed, and that they amounted to “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. These deposits continued to occurr until the end of 2013, when Lee made his last substantial cash deposit in Hong Kong. Throughout that time, Lee received regular written instructions from the Ministry of State Security, asking him to provide information about CIA operations. Lee did so at least 21 times, says the indictment. In one instance, he drew the floorplan of a CIA facility abroad and gave it to the Chinese, according to the indictment. Lee is expected to plead not guilty on Friday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 May 2018 | Permalink

US government prosecutors confirm CIA officer passed information to China

CIAA case officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who was arrested in January of this year for violating the Espionage Act, shared classified information with China, according to an official indictment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, on January 15, accusing him of possessing classified information that included lists of real names of foreign assets and addresses of CIA safe houses. Lee, 53, was reportedly arrested after a lengthy FBI sting operation, which included creating a fictional job in the US in order to entice Lee to travel to New York from Hong Kong, where he had been living after leaving the CIA in 2007. However, the initial FBI complaint did not indict Lee for passing the top-secret information to anyone. There was speculation at the time that this was because the FBI had not been able to conclusively prove that Lee carried out espionage.

On Tuesday, however, Lee was formally indicted on conspiracy to gather and deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government. That charge came in addition to a previously stated charge of unlawfully retaining material related to American national defense. The indictment repeats earlier allegations that Lee was found to be in possession of classified documents that included the real names of CIA assets (foreign citizens who are recruited by CIA case officers to spy for the United States abroad) and the locations of “covert facilities” –safe houses that are typically used by CIA personnel to meet with assets in privacy. In what can be described as the most descriptive allegations that have surfaced against Lee, the indictment proceeds to claim that he was approached by two Chinese intelligence officers in 2010, three years after he left the CIA. The officers allegedly offered to give Lee a substantial amount of money in exchange for access to classified information. Additionally, according to the court documents, Lee was provided by his Chinese handlers with email addresses that he could use to communicate with them covertly, and did as instructed “until at least 2011”.

The documents further state that Lee made “numerous […] cash deposits”, which he struggled to explain when questioned by American counterintelligence officials. On several instances, Lee lied during questioning in order to cover up his financial activities, according to the indictment. Lee’s defense lawyer, Edward MacMahon, told the court on Tuesday that his client was “not a Chinese spy”, but “a loyal American who loves his country”. He also pointed out that Lee served in the US military and the CIA. The Chinese government has made no comment about the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 May 2018 | Permalink