China’s HUMINT Operations Against Defense Contractors in Full Swing

Intelligence

Image via the Office of the National Counterintelligence Director.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to display their ability to conduct human intelligence (HUMINT) espionage operations in the United States, and those within the National Industrial Security Program (NISP) community know this better than most.

When we think of PRC espionage activities, our mind naturally goes to the cyber hi-jinks we’ve become accustomed to reading and hearing about. And when it comes to HUMINT operations against the United States, we are naturally drawn to the activities of the Russian intelligence services. Now let there be no doubt, Russian shenanigans with respect to the U.S. 2016 Presidential election have rightfully captured the attention of the nation, and placed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the news on a daily basis.

What isn’t being highlighted with the same degree of attention is the yeoman efforts of the counterintelligence professionals within the FBI and their colleagues across government in unraveling PRC intelligence efforts.

2017: The Year of the Chinese Spy?

In the first six months of 2017, we have seen the arrest or conviction of a number of individuals, some Chinese citizens, most of them U.S. citizens, for their clandestine collaboration with the PRC intelligence services or operating on behalf of a state enterprise in stealing the defense, diplomatic or private sector information.

This level of counterintelligence activity is both alarming and impressive.

alarming acts of chinese espionage

With each of these cases we learn more and more about the PRC intelligence service’s modus operandi. Indeed with the Mallory case, we see the PRC issued him a covert communications device to use from within the United States to communicate with his PRC handlers in China. The device allowed Mallory to provide to the PRC the classified documents he was able to put his hands on, electronically and covertly. In this writer’s experience, one only issues covert communication devices to trusted and fully vetted assets.

The pragmatist in each of us knows that these six cases do not constitute all PRC HUMINT activity.

Lest we forget, the OPM data breach provided an intelligence targeting gold mine of cleared US employees and contractors to the Chinese. The PRC is not going to take it’s foot off the accelerator.

Impressive Opportunity for Insider Threat Programs

The optimist in each of us knows the insider threat programs we create will increase the likelihood that those who opt to break trust with the United States by engaging in espionage on behalf of a hostile foreign intelligence organization will be detected. So now is the time to double down on the counterespionage efforts within our respective companies, and protect both our company’s intellectual property and the nation’s secrets we have been trusted to protect.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).