Intelligence officials warn China has recruited a vast network of spies to gather confidential information on U.S. military technology as well as private corporate technology.
Recent prosecutions for espionage show the depth and patience of China's spying programs, aimed at gathering secret information about U.S.military and corporate technology, reports The Washington Post.
Last week, federal prosecutors sentenced Chi Mak, a former Chinese immigrant that worked for a defense contractor, to nearly 25 years in prison for sending sensitive Navy military technology plans to China. Mak became a U.S. naturalized citizen in 1985. Prosecutors called him "the perfect sleeper agent" as Mak worked for more than a decade before he acquired the security clearance that gave him access to confidential information.
As the Post notes, these spies could hurt U.S. national security by giving China the know-how to close the military technology gap between it and the militarily superior United States.
Recent prosecutions indicate that Chinese agents have infiltrated sensitive military programs pertaining to nuclear missiles, submarine propulsion technology, night-vision capabilities and fighter pilot training -- all of which could help China modernize its programs while developing countermeasures against advanced weapons systems used by the United States and its allies.
But Mak isn't the only individual the U.S. government has moved against recently for spying for China.
On Monday, a former Defense Department analyst pleaded guilty in Virginia for leaking information of classified U.S. arm sales to a businessman who gave it to a Chinese official.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Chicago indicted a software engineer for stealing the trade secrets of a telecommunications company and trying to take them to China on a one-way trip.
The Post reports that this year alone, at least a dozen investigations have led to criminal charges for individuals accused of spying for China. Since 2000, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has opened more than 540 investigations into illegal technology exports to China.
Asia Times Online says China relies heavily on people of Chinese descent for their espionage.
For nearly two decades, Beijing has mobilized the Chinese-American community to penetrate US military corporations that are working on government defense contracts. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, Beijing recruits these agents by playing the "shared ancestry" card as an accompaniment to the usual monetary remuneration.
US counter-espionage professionals contend that this is a unique style patented by China wherein the agents are relative amateurs such as Chinese students, businesspersons, visiting scientists as well as persons of Chinese heritage living in the US. Each individual may produce only a small iota of data, but a network of such persons could vacuum up an extensive amount of sensitive military and economic information.
As the indictment of the software engineer shows, Chinese spies aren't just interested in military technology, but private business technology as well.
"Espionage used to be a problem for the FBI, CIA and military, but now it's a problem for corporations," Joel Brenner, the head of counterintelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Post. "It's no longer a cloak-and-dagger thing. It's about computer architecture and the soundness of electronic systems."