Selling secrets to the mainland: Military espionage in Taiwan (part 1 and 2)

Cross-Taiwan Strait relations between China and Taiwan have thawed in recent years. China, who until the late 1970s was firing artillery shells toward the island nation, has supposedly taken a softer approach to what it considers a renegade or breakaway Chinese province.

Added to this uptick in recent bilateral relations is current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou administration’s pro-China stance. However, beneath the surface the Sino-Taiwanese dynamic is more complicated than ever. Beijing, who still has not renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, is malevolent. The Middle Kingdom has stepped up its espionage efforts in Taiwan, to such an extent that Taiwan’s military defensive capabilities have been compromised and Taiwan’s relations with the US, the supplier of these defense systems, has been damaged.

Just in the last year, events have unfolded, rocking this island nation of nearly 24 million and throwing its military back on its heels. In March 2012, a Taiwanese captain who worked at a regional operations center north of Taipei was detained on suspicion that he gave intelligence to China. He had assistance from an uncle that ran a business on the mainland. Taiwan’s early-warning radar systems were compromised, the country’s air-defence command and control systems and also surveillance aircraft.

On January 4, a retired Taiwanese naval officer, Chian Ching-kuo was indicted for spying for China. Chian had served as chief of the missile section on a naval warship before retiring in 2009. He was accused of passing secret intelligence to China about Taiwan’s 2011 plan to send warships to Somalia to protect Taiwanese fishing boats from pirate attacks. However, the Taiwanese plan was aborted due to political concerns.

On February 5, according to the Taipei Times, Taiwan’s High Court sentenced retired air force Lieutenant Colonel Yuan Hsiao-feng to 12 life sentences for passing classified military information to China over a period of six years. And, last October, Chang Chih-hsin, a former chief officer in charge of the political warfare division at the Naval Meteorological and Oceanography (METOC) office, and two other Taiwanese military officers were arrested on suspicion of espionage. Chang reportedly leaked classified submarine nautical charts and information about waters around Taiwan.

The Chang case could turn out to be one of the biggest spy busts in Taiwan since 2011 when Taiwanese Army Major General Lo Hsien-Che was lured into spying for China during his time in Taiwan’s representative office in Thailand. The general was caught in what Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) called a “honey trap.” In other words, Lo gave up secrets for cash and sex.

Methods and modes

In an interview with me Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, coordinator of the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King College in the US said that Lo got involved with a young Chinese woman that had an Australian passport.

Fitsanakis who teaches classes on espionage, intelligence, international terrorism, and covert actions, said this was a textbook example of China using real-life spies and sexual entrapment (one of the top methods used by Chinese spies) to gather intelligence.

Lo was sentenced to life in prison and bas been incarcerated since July 2011, however the Chang case is still playing out.

The Chang case intensifies

On February 4, news broke that a Taiwanese rear-admiral was questioned by military prosecutors in connection with an investigation into alleged leaks in the Chang investigation. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) did not disclose the admiral’s identity, however he is still on active duty and until this month served as commander of a fleet. Local media reports quoting military officials claim that the navy has reassigned another officer to take the rear admiral’s position.

Added to the fray is news that broke on February 15 that a Taiwanese army officer had been transferred after one of his relatives was also allegedly involved in the Chang case. This time it was Army Major Gen. Wu Chin-Chun, who originally headed the MND’s legislative liaison office and was an aide to Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu.

All of this brings up some poignant questions. What would motivate a career military officer to betray his country? How much damage has been caused by these recent security breaches? Since the US supplies much of Taiwanese military technology according to Fitsanakis, what fall out has these events had on US-Taiwanese relations? How does China’s spy network operate, why have they intensified its spy ring in Taiwan and what is Taiwan fighting back?

Selling Secrets to the Mainland: Military Espionage in Taiwan (part 2)

The question of why so many Taiwanese military officers would betray their country is a complicated one, as complicated as the six-decade plus relationship between China and Taiwan itself.

Professor Fitsanakis told me that as relations between China and Taiwan warmed in the last 10-15 years, more interaction has taken place. As this plays out, he said, it’s easier for China to find disgruntled employees to influence. In addition, China now has vast amounts of foreign currency at its disposal and finds it increasingly easy to use bribery.

A long-time Chinese watcher based in Taiwan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that it was partly Taiwan’s fault.

“They [Taiwan] takes a military officer and basically sticks him in a concrete room or office with low pay and expects him to serve like that for years. It breads discontent, even anger,” he said.

He added that the spying problem in Taiwan is worse than what the media reports and that there are taxi-drivers, teachers and people across all stratum of society that are either gathering information for China or are open to the idea.

If so, it’s a chilling disclosure. The extent of the fall-out from these security breaches in Taiwan’s military apparatus depends on who you ask. Not surprisingly, the Taiwanese military negates the extent of the damage.

However, others disagree. Commenting on the General Lo case, J. Michael Cole, a former intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and deputy news editor at the Taipei Times wrote in October that it was hard to contain the damage, “especially as doubts remained over how much access he [Lo] had to the nation’s Command, Control, Communications, Computer Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, which Taiwan has been modernizing with US assistance for well over a decade.”

Fitsanakis said that recent military secret leaks in Taiwan, while significant in the short term, are not catastrophic.

“The major casualty of this is the relationship of trust between Taiwan and the US,” he said. “Many in Washington are increasingly hesitant to supply Taiwan with sensitive military technology because they fear penetration by the Chinese.”

Fitsanakis added that while nobody in the State Department would admit it publicaly, it’s subverting US-Taiwanese relations. Yet, to understand the problem that Taiwan is facing, more background information is needed on how China’s spy network began and how it operates. China’s main intelligence gathering agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), is the world’s most secret agency according to experts and engages in military intelligence and counterintelligence operations.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the organizational structure of the MSS reflects the structure of the Russian KGB.

“In terms of personnel, the MSS favors non-professional intelligence agents such as travelers, businessmen, and academics with a special emphasis on the overseas Chinese students and high-tech Chinese professionals working abroad with access to sensitive technological material,” GlobalSecurity states.

Fitsanakis said that the MSS is not as technologically advanced as other intelligence gathering agencies but makes up for it in sheer size. For example, he said that reports indicated that the MSS has around 40,000 agents operating in Germany alone.

As a comparison, though the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) states that neither the number of its employees nor the size of the agency’s budget can be publicly disclosed, the CIA has around 60,000 agents in its ranks according to some analysts.

Going after Mei Guo

All of this beckons the question, if Sino-Taiwanese relations are improving, then why the increase in Chinese spying activity? The answer is simple: America (Mei Guo).

“China has been increasingly aggressive since the early 1990s in recruiting Taiwanese to spy,” Fitsanakis said. “Notably the need to spy on US military systems (early warning systems, missile systems) which are easier to access in Taiwan than in the US.” According to Fitsanakis both have been compromised in recent years.

He added that this would not change in the foreseeable future because weapons systems are the most coveted intel of any country. Beijing has also intensified its spying activities in recent years to confront what is sees as US encirclement in the Asia Pacific region as well as a safeguard to secure energy routes through the East China and South China Seas.

By Tim Daiss

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 at 3:29 pm

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And at 28 February 2013

©independent.co.uk

Analysis: The Current State of the China-Taiwan Spy War

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

Find this story at 1 March 2013

Taiwan unnerved by arrests over alleged spying for China

Taiwan has arrested three retired military officers on suspicion of spying for China, allegations that have unsettled lawmakers fearful that state secrets could be leaked to Beijing.

The accused include the former chief of political warfare at the Taiwanese naval meteorology and oceanography office, according a Ministry of National Defense statement sent Monday to local media. The ministry said Chang Chih-hsin had initiated contacts with Chinese officials during his service and was suspected of luring fellow officers and “making illegal gains.”

The office is seen as especially sensitive because it holds information about Taiwanese submarines and hidden ambush zones. “This has gravely endangered Taiwan’s security,” ruling party lawmaker Lin Yu-fang was quoted by the Taipei Times. “It’s a shame for the military.”

As the news spread, the ministry downplayed the risks, saying that no “confidential information” had been leaked to Beijing. The Chinese office for Taiwan affairs told the Global Times, a paper linked to the Communist Party, that it knew nothing about the alleged spying.
That failed to reassure politicians in Taiwan, which has sought to ease tensions and strengthen economic ties with a country that still sees it as a breakaway territory. Trade, investment and tourism have been liberalized between Taipei and Beijing, boosting the Taiwanese economy.

On the surface, relations between Taiwan and China seem peaceful, said Kwei-Bo Huang, director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies at National Chengchi University. “But deep down, the intelligence warfare hasn’t stopped,” he said. Last summer, an army general was jailed for life for selling secrets to China, the most striking case of espionage yet. Opposition politicians argued episodes of alleged spying show that Taiwan has veered too far in embracing China under President Ma Ying-jeou.

The president has slipped in popularity since he first won election four years ago, when his opponents were hobbled by a corruption scandal, forcing him to defend his increased openness toward China.

“These kinds of activities undermine the confidence of the Taiwanese public towards any friendly gesture at all,” said Dean P. Chen, assistant professor of political science at Ramapo College of New Jersey. “It could easily undermine his China policy.”

The phenomenon of retired military officials heading to China has caused particular concern in Taiwan that secrets could be spilled. Without institutional channels to communicate about military issues, Chen said, officers have ended up chatting informally instead.

“In the absence of an institutionalized arrangement, they lack ideas of what is right to say and what is not right to say. Nobody really knows where to apply a brake,” he said. Creating clearer channels for discussion, Chen added, could help quash under-the-table talk.

October 30, 2012 | 7:37 am

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Taiwan arrests suspected military spies for China

Taiwan has arrested three retired military officers suspected of spying for China, officials say.

One of the officers, identified by local media as Chang Chih-hsin, was the former political warfare head of the meteorology and oceanography office.

The Defence Ministry has said that Mr Chang did not leak sensitive material.

But local media warn his department handled highly classified data, including maps for submarines, hidden ambush zones and coastal defence areas.

“Chang, who initiated contacts with Chinese mainland officials while still serving in the navy, was suspected of luring his former colleagues and making illegal gains,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry had been investigating Mr Chang even before he retired in May and visited China in August, reports say.

While a Defence Ministry spokesman has confirmed the arrest of three former military officials, other media reports say that a total of eight officers have been arrested.

The case is raising questions about the increasing practice in recent years of Taiwan’s retired officers, including generals, visiting China, says the BBC’s Cindy Sui in Taipei.

 

29 October 2012 Last updated at 09:49 GMT

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Taiwan arrests eight military officers for spying for China

Authorities in Taiwan have announced the arrest at least eight current and former military officers on suspicion of conducting espionage on behalf of China. The eight are accused of leaking Taiwanese military secrets to Beijing, in a case that some Taiwanese legislators described yesterday as one of the most serious instances of espionage in the island’s history. According to official statements issued yesterday, the person in charge of the alleged spy ring appears to be Lieutenant Colonel Chang Chin-hsin, who until his retirement earlier this year was charge of political warfare at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Office. Based outside of Taipei, METOC is in charge of producing mapping data for use by Taiwan’s naval forces, including cartographic manuals used by Taiwanese warships and submarines guarding the Taiwanese coastline. Taiwanese authorities allege that Chang “initiated contacts” with Chinese mainland officials while still serving in the Taiwanese Navy. Following his recruitment, Chang gradually enlisted several other members of the Taiwanese military by offering hefty monetary bribes in exchange for military secrets. Taipei authorities claim that they found out about Chang’s espionage activities in March of this year, and that Taiwan’s Military Prosecutors Office gathered evidence against him before he was able to seriously compromise national security. David Lo, a spokesman at Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, told journalists yesterday that, as a result of the early tip-off and related counterintelligence precautions, Chang had “limited access to sensitive information”.

October 30, 2012 by Ian Allen

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |

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