Militaries around the world scramble to contain impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 ChinaMilitary forces around the world are scrambling to contain the impact of COVID-19 on military readiness, as the virus continues to infect troops and commanders at an alarming rate. On Tuesday, the Polish government announced that General Jaroslaw Mika, who serves as general commander of Branches of the Armed Forces, had tested positive for the coronavirus. General Mika is believed to have contracted the virus during a military conference that took place in the German city of Wiesbaden, where North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders gathered to plan an American-led military exercise.

Also on Tuesday, the United States Department of Defense said that the commander of the US Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli, participated at the Wiesbaden conference, along with several other US Army staff members. They are currently being tested for exposure to COVID-19. Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that the US Pentagon acknowledged that “the US military’s official tally of servicemembers and related personnel who have been infected by the coronavirus likely undercounts the actual total”. Sources told the news agency that the low age and good health of American troops was “a mixed blessing of sorts”, since it allows US servicemembers to survive the virus but at the same time reduces their symptoms that would normally trigger testing for COVID-19.

The government of Taiwan said on Tuesday that over 400 members of its armed forces had entered self-imposed quarantine in order to prevent a possible COVID-19 outbreak among military personnel. This brings the total number of Taiwanese servicemembers who are currently in quarantine to over 2,000, which includes two generals. The country’s Minister of Defense, Yen De-fa, insisted on Tuesday that the virus had not impacted Taiwan’s military readiness.

Chinese officials have not provided information about the effect of the coronavirus on the country’s military. The Chinese-language website of The Epoch Times said last week that, according to unnamed insiders, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had “forcibly isolated” tens of thousands of servicemembers this month. There are no reports of specific numbers in the Chinese media or non-Chinese news outlets.

Finally, according to Daily NK, a South Korean website that specializes on news from North Korea, approximately 180 North Korean soldiers have died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the past month. The website cited “a source inside the North Korean military”, who said that Pyongyang had forcibly quarantined at around 3,700 soldiers of all ranks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s military.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2020 | Permalink

Coronavirus: Comparing America’s bungling fiasco with Taiwan’s stunning success

Coronavirus Task ForceThe coronavirus (COVID-19) is quickly becoming the greatest security challenge of our time. The ease of transmission and high death rate of this disease, coupled with the asymmetric challenges it poses to our planet’s social, economic and political structures, threaten the very cohesion of our global system. This is especially true of Western societies, whose highly sophisticated organizational features make them especially susceptible to all forms of large-scale disruption. Few of those of us who are alive today in the West have ever faced a threat with the all-encompassing characteristics, disruptive capacity and persistent nature of COVID-19.

But no American would get this impression by watching the daily briefings of the so-called White House “Coronavirus Task Force”. The uncomfortable smiles and awkward acquiescence of its members, part of an unconvincing effort to assure Americans that “all is well”, coupled with their seemingly unending competition to offer lavish praises to each other, make for a truly uncomfortable viewing experience. Such astounding manifestations of mediocrity would be somewhat tolerable if they came alongside actionable information that Americans could use to protect themselves and the future of their country —preferably something beyond “washing your hands for at least 20 seconds”.

On February 26, Americans were told by their president that “within a couple of days [COVID-19 cases in the US would] be down close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done”. By that time, China was feverishly implementing the largest quarantine in human history. Ten days later, Italy began to quarantine 16 million people —a quarter of its population— in its northern regions. Meanwhile, Britain has begun re-hiring retired nurses to prepare for the coming unprecedented wave of medical emergencies, while France has banned all large meetings in its territory. But in America it’s business as usual: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced on Sunday that all its tournament games nationwide will be held with fans despite growing concerns about the coronavirus. Not a single senior government official has stepped forward to address Americans’ growing anxiety about the potentially unprecedented degree of disruption that the US economy, including the nation’s supply chain, healthcare, transportation, education, entertainment, and services sectors are going to be experiencing in the coming months.

Additionally, Americans expect the so-called “Task Force” to provide non-politicized explanations of the ongoing failures of the US government’s treatment to the COVID-19 crisis, which continue to allow the virus to spread in our communities unabated. For instance, why did the US decline to use the World Health Organization’s diagnostic test for the disease, which had been made available to dozens of nations by the end of January? Or why does access to testing kits remain at alarmingly low levels, so much so that a frustrated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently described the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s response to COVID-19 as “flat-footed”? So grave is this situation, that on March 8 The Washington Examiner —arguably America’s leading conservative publication— opined that COVID-19 “is exposing how deeply unsuited [Donald Trump] is to deal with a genuine crisis that he can’t bluff his way through”.

The American government’s tragically incompetent response to COVID-19 (at this point just slightly better than the Islamic Republic of Iran’s) hurts even more when one compares it with that of Taiwan —an island nation of 23 million, which the US often views as a client state. In January, when COVID-19 began making news headlines, experts predicted that Taiwan would end up with the world’s second-highest number of COVID-19 cases. This was primarily due to the country’s geographical proximity to mainland China —just 81 miles from the Chinese shore— as well as the extensive transportation network that links the two nations. Over 1.2 million Taiwanese either live permanently or work in China, while nearly 3 million Chinese citizens visit Taiwan every year. Even more ominously, the COVID-19 outbreak occurred right before the Lunar New Year, which is the busiest travel season for both Chinese and Taiwanese holidaymakers.

But Taiwan has managed to spectacularly defy all early predictions about a potential COVID-19 epidemic. As a group of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles, Stanford University, RAND Corporation and the Koo Foundation in Taiwan, explain in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the reason dates back to 2003. That year’s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak prompted the Taiwanese government to establish the National Health Command Center (NHCC). Since then, the NHCC has operated as a central command system that coordinates the activities of Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, the Biological Pathogen Disaster Command Center, the Counter-Bioterrorism Command Center, and the Central Medical Emergency Operations Center. Intelligence collected and analyzed by these centers is quickly distributed to central, regional and local authorities in all parts of the country.

The authors explain that, on December 31, the day when the World Health Organization notified national authorities of the first accounts of a severe pneumonia with unknown causes in the Chinese city of Wuhan, NHCC personnel began to board planes arriving from Wuhan. They began testing all passengers and crew on those planes for flu-like symptoms before allowing them to deplane. By January 5, NHCC personnel were reaching out to anyone who had traveled to Wuhan in the past fortnight and testing them for flu-like symptoms. By that time, the NHCC had already set up a nationwide toll-free hotline, which has since become decentralized to serve individual regions.

On January 27, the NHCC worked in collaboration with Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) to integrate the database containing the recent travel history of passengers with their NHIA identification card data. They also integrated the same database with national tourism and immigration data. Within 24 hours, the NHCC was reaching out to all citizens of Taiwan, as well as tourists and immigrants, who had traveled to the Wuhan region during the previous month. Using this big-data analytics approach, Taiwanese authorities were able to generate real-time alerts that were sent to individual doctors for use during clinical visits, so that clinical symptoms could be matched with patients’ travel histories.

Those who had traveled to regions of China that were considered high-risk, were immediately quarantined at home for 14 days. Their movements were tracked through their mobile phones to ensure compliance with quarantine instructions. Meanwhile, all those who exhibited flu-like symptoms but had tested negative for influenza in weeks prior, were re-tested for COVID-19.

Considering the above, it is hardly surprising that, by March 9, Taiwan —located just 81 miles off the coast of China— had just 45 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a single death. Importantly, this is not because the Taiwanese are not testing their citizens —unlike the US or, even more outrageously, Turkey, which continues to report zero cases of COVID-19. Taiwan has tested more people than all of the nations of the Americas combined. The low number of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan is due to one thing, and one thing alone: a preemptive approach to the security of the nation by an enlightened leadership and a forward-thinking government system. Which is precisely what the US lacks at this grave time for the nation’s future.

* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis is associate professor in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program at Coastal Carolina University in the United States.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2020 | Permalink

Chinese defector reveals identities of Chinese undercover spies in Asia and Australia

Wang LiqiangA Chinese intelligence defector has reportedly given the Australian government information about entire networks of Chinese undercover spies in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, according to reports. The story of Wang “William” Liqiang, made headlines all over Australia during the weekend, culminating in an entire episode of 60 Minutes Australia about him airing on Sunday. The 26-year-old from China’s eastern Fujian province reportedly defected to Australia in October, while visiting his wife and newborn son, who live in Sydney. He is currently reported to be in a safe house belonging to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

Police in the Chinese city of Shanghai claim that Mr. Wang is a small-time criminal who has been found guilty of using fraudulent documents and has a 15-month suspended prison sentence on his record. In a statement issued on Sunday, China’s embassy in Canberra described Mr. Wang as a “convicted fraudster” who was “wanted by police after fleeing [China] on a fake passport”. But according to reports in the Australian media, Mr. Wang has provided the ASIO with a 17-page sworn statement, in which he details his work as an undercover intelligence officer. He is also said to have shared the identities of senior Chinese intelligence officers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and to have explained how they organize and implement espionage operations on behalf of Bejing.

In a leading article published on Saturday, The Sydney Morning Herald referred to Mr. Wang as “the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover” and claimed that he had given the ASIO “a trove of unprecedented inside intelligence” about Chinese espionage operations in Southeast Asia. The newspaper said that the defector had revealed details about entire networks of Chinese intelligence operatives in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He also reportedly provided identifying information about deep-cover Chinese intelligence networks in Australia.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, Australian media said yesterday that the ASIO was examining allegations that a Chinese espionage ring tried to recruit an Australian businessman of Chinese background and convince him to run for parliament. According to reports, the spy ring approached Nick Zhao, a successful luxury car dealer, and offered to fund his political campaign with nearly $700,000 (AUS$1 million) if he run as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia. Zhao reportedly told the ASIO about the incident last year, shortly before he was found dead in a Melbourne hotel room. His death remains under investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 November 2019 | Permalink

Taiwan president’s security detail implicated in cigarette smuggling scandal

Taiwan cigarette smugglingAt least 70 members of Taiwan’s presidential security detail used the president’s official trips abroad to smuggle thousands of cigarettes into the country, it has been announced by Taiwan’s’s spy chief. According to news reports from Taiwan, the smuggling scandal was uncovered last month, when the country’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, concluded an official tour of several Caribbean nations. Taiwanese customs officers stopped a security agent in President Tsai’s entourage, who allegedly tried to bring nearly 10,000 cartons of duty-free cigarettes into the country. The agent had ordered the cigarettes online prior to the presidential trip. He then concealed the cartons in an airport warehouse and planned to bring them into the country by disguising them as supplies used by President Tsai’s motorcade.

The customs officials contacted China Airlines, the national carrier of Taiwan, and requested information on the number of duty-free cigarette cartons that had been brought onboard by members of the president’s entourage during her foreign trips. The data revealed that thousands of cartons had been transported during presidential trips, which pointed to an organized smuggling operation by dozens of members of Tsai’s entourage. A subsequent investigation by the National Security Bureau (NSB), Taiwan’s spy service, revealed that the smuggling network had begun operating during the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, Tsai’s predecessor. The scandal prompted the resignation of the director of the NSB. On Friday, the NSB’s new Director, Chiu Kuo-cheng, gave a rare press conference in which he provided further details on the case. According to Chiu, 49 members of the presidential security detail, 25 NSB officers and two members of Taiwan’s Military Police, participated in the smuggling network. Most smuggled between 10 and 50 cartons of cigarettes per trip; but some smuggled over 1,000 cartons per trip.

Chiu said on Friday that two NSB officers had been placed under arrest for their participation in the smuggling ring, and further arrests were being planned. He warned those responsible that he had personally taken command of the NSB’s investigation, and that punishment would be “severe” for those found to have participated in the smuggling. Chiu added that a number of China Airlines officials were also implicated in the smuggling network and were being questioned. On Saturday, President Tsai said she had no knowledge that members of her own security detail were smuggling duty-free cigarettes into Taiwan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 August 2019 | Permalink

Taiwan admits for the first time that Chinese general Liu Liankun was one of its spies

Taiwan MIBThe government of Taiwan has acknowledged publicly for the first time that a Chinese major general, who was executed by Beijing in 1999 for espionage, was indeed one of its spies. The military officer was Liu Liankun, a logistician for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who headed its Department of General Logistics. However, China arrested Liu for espionage in 1999, and accused him of having spied for Taiwan for five years, in exchange for money. At the time, Taiwan denied that Liu spied on its behalf and refused to acknowledge that it had any role in the major general’s alleged espionage activities.

According to his Chinese government accusers, Liu passed information to Taiwan during the so-called 1996 missile crisis —known in Taiwan as the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. The crisis was prompted by a series of missile tests conducted by Beijing in the waters around the island of Taiwan. The crisis lasted several months, from July of 1995 to March of 1996. Many in Taiwan were convinced that China’s missile tests were the precursors of a military advance by Beijing, aimed at conquering the island one and for all. However, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense eventually issued a press statement saying it was aware that the Chinese missiles were not equipped with armed warheads. The information was correct, but it made China realize that Taiwan was receiving information from a highly placed source inside its military. After an extensive counterintelligence investigation, the Chinese arrested Liu and accused him of having spied for Taiwan in exchange for nearly $2 million in bribes. Liu was eventually executed by lethal injection in a Beijing prison. He was 58. At the time of his conviction, Liu was the most senior Chinese military officer to have ever been convicted of spying for Taiwan.

But Taiwan continued to deny any involvement in Liu’s case. That changed last week, however, when Taiwan’s Military Information Bureau unveiled its renovated memorial, which is housed at its headquarters in Taipei City. The memorial features plaques commemorating 75 individuals who have died while carrying out MIB intelligence operations. Those featured include both intelligence officers and their assets —foreign people recruited by intelligence officers to spy for Taiwan. Among the plaques, visitors to the memorial saw one dedicated to Liu for the first time. A note beneath the plaque acknowledges Liu’s contributions during the 1996 missile crisis. But it also states that the Chinese military official also provided assistance to Taiwan during earlier crises with China in the 1990s, as well as inside information about the death of Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping in 1997.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 April 2018 | Permalink

China has 5,000 spies in Taiwan, says official amidst espionage arrests

China and TaiwanA Taiwanese government official has alleged that China maintains an army of more than 5,000 spies in Taiwan, many of whom have infiltrated the highest levels of government and industry. The allegation came after two sensational arrests were made in Taiwan last week, of people accused of spying for Beijing. Taiwanese counterintelligence officers reportedly arrested a bodyguard of Annette Lu, Taiwan’s former vice president. The bodyguard, who has been identified in Taiwanese media as Wang Hong-ju, has been charged with receiving payments from his Chinese intelligence handler in return for providing information about Mrs. Lu. This incident followed another arrest, made earlier in the week, this time of a Chinese man who is believed to have initially come to Taiwan as a student. Zhou Hong-xu is accused of trying to recruit officials in the Taiwanese government by offering them money.

Following reports of the arrests, Taiwanese media quoted an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that Beijing maintains “about 5,000 individuals” who spy in Taiwan. These agents are allegedly tasked with “collecting state secrets” in the island country, over which China claims ownership. The anonymous Taiwanese official said that authorities in Taipei had uncovered no fewer than 60 espionage plots linked to China since 2002. Less than a third of those were uncovered before 2009, said the official. The year is important, because it marks the time when communications and transportation systems between the two nations were reestablished after decades of mutual isolation. The ease with which people from the two countries can travel in each other’s territory has increased exponentially since 2009. But so have instances of espionage by China, said the Taiwanese official.

Asked about the alleged targets of Chinese espionage in Taiwan, the official said that nearly 80 percent of identified cases of espionage by Beijing’s agents were aimed at military targets, with only 20 percent focusing on the civilian sector. However, the apparent disparity in numbers does not mean that China shows more interest in Taiwanese military secrets. Rather, the Taiwanese military has better counterintelligence defenses and thus a higher detection rate than the country’s civilian sector, said the anonymous source.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 March 2017 | 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