Last week I spoke about the current state of the espionage war between China and Taiwan with Tim Daiss, a Southeast Asia-based American journalist who has been covering the Asia-Pacific region for over a decade. Our discussion formed the basis of a comprehensive piece on the subject, published in British newspaper The Independent, in two parts (part one and part two). It told Daiss that the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary national intelligence agency— is not known for its technological prowess. However, the sheer size of Beijing’s intelligence apparatus is proving a good match for the more advanced automated systems used by its less populous regional rivals, including Taiwan. When it comes to traditional human intelligence, the Chinese have been known to employ time-tested methods such as sexual entrapment or blackmail, as was confirmed most recently in the case of Taiwanese Major-General Lo Hsien-che. Lo, who headed the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information, was convicted of sharing classified top-secret information with a female Chinese operative in her early 30s, who held an Australian passport. During his trial, which marked the culmination of Taiwan’s biggest spy scandal in over half a century, Lo admitted that the Chinese female spy “cajoled him with sex and money”. In addition to honey-trap techniques, Chinese spies collect intelligence by way of bribery, as do many of their foreign colleagues. In the case of China, however, a notable change in recent years has been the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of foreign currency, which make it easier for Chinese intelligence operatives to entice foreign assets, such as disgruntled or near-bankrupt state employees, to sell classified data.
In the case of Taiwan, China’s primary intelligence targets are weapons systems, especially those originating in the United States. The island-nation possesses export-versions of some of America’s most advanced weaponry, and it is far easier for Beijing to access such weapons in Taiwan than on US soil. Taiwan is both geographically and culturally familiar to Chinese intelligence operatives, who do not have to try too hard to blend into Taiwanese society. I told The Independent that, based on publicly available information about recent espionage cases, it would be safe to assume that Chinese intelligence has gained access to substantial classified information on some of Taiwan’s most advanced US-made defense systems. These include the Lockheed Martin/Raytheon-built Patriot missile defense system deployed on the island, as well as the Po Shen command and control system, which is designed to facilitate critical battlefield communications between Taiwan’s navy, army and air force.
I argue in the interview with the London-based paper that China’s success in penetrating Taiwan’s defense systems is having a significant impact on bilateral relations between Washington and Taipei. On the one hand, the United States is committed on preserving its alliance with Taiwan, for both geostrategic and symbolic purposes. But, on the other hand, American defense planners are weary of the damage caused to US military strategy by the exposure of some of Washington’s most coveted weapons systems to Chinese intelligence by way of Taiwan. As I told Daiss, while nobody at the US Pentagon or State Department would admit it publicly, “many in Washington are increasingly hesitant to supply Taiwan with sensitive military technology because they fear penetration by the Chinese”.
March 1, 2013 by Joseph Fitsanakis