Update :

Yujing Zhang, who has been in INS custody since her conviction in 2019 and eight-month sentence (essentially time served), was successfully deported from the United States this past weekend. She was arrested for illegally entering the Secret Service restricted area at Mar-a-Largo. When arrested in March 2019, she had with her an electronics smorgasbord of devices – hidden camera signal detector, four cell phones, laptop, external drives and a thumb drive which contained malware.

As 2019 comes to an end, a noticeable uptick in physical security probes by China against U.S. defense entities and those associated with the White House have percolated to the forefront. Facility Security Officers (FSO) should view the apprehension of these uninvited Chinese guests as the miner views the dying canary in the coal mine.

Time to pay attention.

NAS Key West Chinese intruder

On December 26, Lyulou Liao was arrested probing Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West, FL, according to the criminal affidavit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) described in the affidavit how at about 6:50 AM, Liao was observed walking the fence line of the NAS. And then, where the fence met the water’s edge, circumventing the fence and making his way through the rocky shore into the NAS. The NCIS note in the affidavit that the fence was well marked, with English language signage noting the restricted nature of the facility and with ample “No Trespassing” notices.

What could be of interest at the NAS? According to the Navy, the NAS is the host facility for numerous tenant activities, including Joint Interagency Task Force South, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Training School, as well as Tactical Combat Training System (think Top Gun).

Individuals in proximity to the area where Liao entered the NAS warned Liao that he had entered a restricted area and advised him to leave.

He didn’t.

He continued to walk along the property of Truman Annex taking photographs of government buildings in proximity to sensitive military facilities using a camera.

Military Police approached and detained Liao. Liao said he was taking photos of the sunrise. Consensual inspection of the camera showed that the photos were of the buildings on Truman Annex.

While it is too soon to determine Liao’s ulterior motive, and court documents are purposefully pithy, the fact that it follows on the heels of the well publicized arrest and expulsion of two Chinese officials for illegally entering NAS Oceana in Virginia is troubling.

In both instances the intruders were warned against entering, ignored the direction, and entered the NAS.

In both instances, the individuals fell back on linguistic deficiency to explain their having placed themselves in the sensitive environment.

President’s residence Mar a Lago faces Chinese intruders

Then we have the two attempts by Chinese nationals to penetrate the President’s residence in Florida.

The first intruder, Chinese business woman Yujing Zhang, was recently sentenced to eight months behind bars after having been found guilty of entering the restricted area at Mar-a-Lago in March 2019, then lying to the Secret Service. One should remember that Zhang had with her an electronics smorgasbord of devices – hidden camera signal detector, four cell phones, laptop, external drives and a thumb drive which contained malware.

The second intrusion occurred on December 18, when Chinese national Lu Jing entered Mar-a-Lago, was asked to leave, and then returned. She was subsequently arrested by Palm Beach police. Following her arrest it was found that her U.S. visa had expired, and she was in the country illegally.

Are these Chinese intrusion incidents benign?

In the Zhang’s case, the U.S. court seemed to think so, as her eight-month sentence was essentially time served from the point of her arrest in March 2019 until her sentencing in November. In the latter case of Jing, it is too soon to determine.

It’s been widely noted that the intrusion into NAS Oceana was made by two Chinese officials, and they were declared persona non grata and expelled from the U.S.  Liao, the intruder onto the grounds of NAS Key West was actively photographing the buildings within the base, after having bypassed the fenced perimeter. Neither of these incidents can be considered benign.

What it means for FSO’s

Chinese intelligence has been able to go to school on the reaction to the four intrusions simply by accessing publicly available documents (Open Source intelligence). In addition, there is little doubt the Chinese intelligence apparatus will conduct thorough debriefs of all of their citizens upon their return and fill in any gaps in their understanding of facilities’ operational security.

The question every FSO needs to be asking themselves:

  • Do I have in place appropriate processes and procedures to detect an intruder within my perimeter?
  • Are my security personnel trained to handle, what may appear to be a benign intruder?
  • Are all personnel appropriately trained to handle the presence of an unauthorized third party within the facilities perimeter?
  • Are all visitors, especially foreign national visitors to the facility properly documented and vetted?
  • Have briefings from the cognizant security authorities for the various classified projects taking place within the facility provided up-to-date briefings on the physical Chinese threat.
  • Has the local FBI division been asked to provide an Chinese counterintelligence update on Chinese travel in proximity to the facility?

There’s little doubt the OPSEC of every facility where classified work takes place is of interest to hostile intelligence services. This head’s-up to FSO’s should not be squandered. China’s hand has been tipped: they’re probing.

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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). He is the founder of securelytravel.com