Australia has its hands full with the media blitz taking place surrounding the defection of Chinese national, Wang “William” Liqiang, 27-years of age, who claims to be a member of Chinese intelligence active measures program. Wang claims to be a part of an active measures program designed to conduct political interference operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.
Is Wang a volunteer defector, a provocateur or a fabricator?
Wang arrived in Australia in April on a tourist visa to visit his wife who is in Australia studying. He tells media that in October he decided to take his story to the Australian security service (ASIO) responsible for counterespionage and counterintelligence. He has also requested political asylum in Australia. While his presence in Australia may have started out low-key, that did not continue for long.
Australia’s media outlets, as detailed in Australia’s version of 60 Minutes, show that Wang reached out to media in October 2019. Thanks to Wang’s claim to be an undercover Chinese intelligence officer who has been in Australia since April and now wishes to tell all, a veritable media feeding frenzy followed.
Intelligence officers, regardless of service, are provided counterintelligence briefings and basic OPSEC guidance as they prepare to go about their business. They also are schooled in how to handle a walk-in (one who walks in off the street) and volunteers their service.
Perhaps they do things differently in Australia with respect to handling intelligence assets, as this writer’s personal experience with intelligence volunteers is you keep their existence more low-key. You isolate them and their family for their own personal security, as well as to allow time to validate the story being told by the volunteer. Wang’s case seems to be the exact opposite of what would be advisable for a defector arriving in the U.S.
Wang the Volunteer
The conundrum facing every service is the need to determine if the individual with whom they are sitting across is legitimate. Volunteers must establish their bonafides at the very first encounter. To that end, we learn from the Australia press that Wang identified himself as a Chinese intelligence operative who had information on China’s active measures within Australia to place an “agent” within the Australian parliament. In addition to Australia, Wang claims to have been active in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He posessed a Chinese passport in his true name and a Korean passport in the same name. The images of the passports being shared by The Age show two documents which are inexplicably unsigned.
As part of his initial data dump, Wang told media he has provided to the ASIO, over the course of several meetings, information on Chinese intelligence operations taking place in Hong Kong. He provided details on the kidnapping of five booksellers in Hong Kong who disappeared in 2016 and how they were hustled into the mainland and have disappeared. He specifically identified an operation which resulted in the kidnapping of Lee Bo, another book seller in Hong Kong, in which he personally engaged. Germane to Hong Kong and perhaps of interest to the West, he claims to have knowledge of how the Chinese are infiltrating the Hong Kong democracy movement, both directly and via cyber-attacks.
His South Korean passport was provided to allow him to enter Taiwan where he claims to have been previously active in Beijing’s efforts to infiltrate into the various political parties, meddling in the 2018 elections and participating in preparatory efforts to influence the outcome of the 2020 elections. He claims his organization backed candidate Han Kuo-yu with a donation of $2.8 million in 2018’s Kaohsiung’s mayoral election, and thus assisted in his victory.
Of key interest to Australia, he identified himself as having met with a “deep cover” cell of spies operating in Australia.
Wang the Provocateur
When evaluating an individual’s bonafides, the intelligence officer is asking themselves and driving their questions to determine if the information being provided is sensitive and of import. When services run double-agent operations – as we have been reminded most recently in the case the U.S. successfully ran against Chinese intelligence and which resulted in the indictment and arrest of a Chinese asset in the U.S, – one must sell the deal.
A provocateur has multiple goals.
Among them is to occupy the targeted service’s time. The other is to obtain from the service their requirements, which may provide insight to where an adversary has operational interest. And thirdly, not to give away that which will irreparably damage the asset’s home service and government.
Wang’s arrival in Australia to “visit” his wife on a tourist visa would be excellent cover for continued trips to and from the PRC. The ASIO would be able to debrief him as he went about their tasking against Chinese intelligence to their hearts content in a low-risk, secure environment – Australia.
Generally speaking, their information is verifiable, because it consists of actual secrets – the feed material.
Wang’s not planning on returning to the PRC, so is of little ongoing operational interest.
Wang the Fabricator
Is Wang a fabricator?
History is replete with those who have peddled fictitious tales based on openly available information to which they add a spin. There isn’t an intelligence officer who has handled “walk-ins” who hasn’t met a fabricator. Their goals are venal, and self-serving. If we look at Wang as a potential fabricator, we see he is asking for asylum and subsistence for himself and his family – not an unreasonable request from one who is defecting.
Yet his information, while salacious and attention grabbing. isn’t revelatory.
Let’s break it down.
Taiwan – The government of Taiwan has been quite vocal in their criticism of Beijing meddling in their election process and provision of funding in last year’s election in which the KMT (Kuomintang) made widespread inroads within the Taiwan political landscape.
Hong Kong – The kidnappings of book sellers, the infiltration of the pro-democracy movement and those organizing street protests, as well as the Beijing’s actions with respect to trying to control the cyber landscape in Hong Kong, are well documented.
Australia – Allegations of Chinese meddling in Australia elections are also well documented both in media and via government warnings. Wang allegedly provided bank statements detailing the transfer of funds to many “Australian political donors.” For years media has been full of accusations of Chinese-born Australians who may have covert connections to China. The first Chinese-born member of Australian Parliament elected in 2019 has been openly referred to as the “Manchurian Candidate.” His identifying the existence of Chinese assets in Canberra who are targeting the government isn’t a difficult reach. Identifying who the individuals are and what services they have provided to Beijing is a different story, and there is no evidence Wang has provided this level of detail.
China – A public notice issued by the police in Shanghai identify Wang as a man who had served 15 months in the Chinese penal system for fraud. It goes on to identify Wang as having had a warrant issued for his arrest in April 2019 for an additional crime committed in February 2019 when he allegedly defrauded an individual to whom he was selling an imported auto. The notice goes on to detail how Wang arrived in Hong Kong on April 10, 2019.
Wang has been busy these last few years, from kidnapping operations to running sophisticated cyber-attacks on those of interest to the Beijing. His operational workload must have been back-breaking. The level of detail he should be able to provide will set Beijing back for years, not only in Australia, but also in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The Australia security service is absolutely professional, and have their I’s dotted and T’s crossed when it comes to conducting counterintelligence work. Their recently issued warning about China’s intelligence efforts targeting Australia evidences their expertise
Yet, after multiple meetings with Wang, the ASIO is inexplicably unimpressed with Wang.
Wang appears to be a fabricator.