Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an op-ed that warned about China’s growing espionage capabilities against the United States. A number of recent incidents reveal that China has built a sophisticated network of spies that has penetrated high levels in the American intelligence and military industries, as well as our nuclear weapons labs, Silicon Valley, and other sensitive targets. These incidents include:

  • The Chinese government acquiring the top-secret design of the American W-88 miniature nuclear warhead, the source of which, after four years of investigations, remains a mystery.
  • A Chinese spy ring on the East and West Coasts, including a former Air Force officer and Pentagon official, which resulted in Beijing acquiring information about the Navy’s Quiet Electric Drive, the B-1 bomber, and American arms sales to Taiwan.
  • An FBI informant named Katrina Leung who, in 2003, was revealed as a double agent for China.
  • A Northrop Grumman engineer from Hawaii who was convicted January 2011 for providing stealth technology to the Chinese government for use on cruise missiles in exchange for $100,000.
  • Recent reports in August 2011 that Pakistan provided Chinese officials access to a downed American Black Hawk helicopter involved in the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. The helicopter utilizes stealth technology.

According to the author of the op-ed, David Wise, an expert in the history of espionage, U.S. failures to counter Chinese espionage efforts are due to antiquated thinking, a legacy of the Cold War, and preoccupation with Al Qaeda. Wise argues that America’s neglect of the Chinese threat partially stems from the Cold War era when intelligence officials largely ignored Beijing, focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union.

Additionally, the Chinese intelligence threat is increasingly involving cyber attacks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a recent victim of Chinese hackers. The Chinese government does claim to be a victim itself of such attacks. In November 2011, however, the U.S. counterintelligence official described China “the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.”

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Richard Lim is an Infrastructure Protection Analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Prior to this, he served at the White House and the Department of Labor and graduated with a Master of Public Administration at the Maxwell School in Syracuse University and the University of California, San Diego. He is a published author and blogger.