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Are Chinese Sleeper Espionage Cells Active in America?

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chinese sleeper cells

China’s Military Intelligence has placed, ‘fish at the bottom of the ocean’ (Chen di yu). These are individuals recruited as espionage agents who will not be activated until a later date (1).

This past week, two separate incidences serve to remind us that the US is under attack from China.

With their economy slowing down, Beijing will do whatever it takes to maintain growth, even it if means stealing US know-how and tech in order to achieve this. (2)(3)

Beijing knows that despite recent pushes to enhance indigenous innovation, successes have been few and far between. In order to fill the innovation gap, the Chinese have turned to stealing from foreign firms and countries.

As a matter of fact, the Chinese have stolen so much technology from the US that it has been called the greatest transfer of wealth in history (4). And a large part of the problem is that the Chinese government has gotten deeply into the business of stealing economic secrets, ultimately to be used against the US (5).

Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage (6).

Chinese Sleeper Cells Discovered

In what can only be described as disturbing, two weeks ago, two Chinese nationals were caught playing their part in China’s sleeper cell of espionage.

What is more troubling than this is that one of the two, Sixing Liu, was a naturalized US citizen now living in New Jersey. Mr Liu was convicted of stealing files related to military technology from a defense contractor, and illegally selling them to China (7).

The files he had stolen contained secrets regarding performance and design of guidance systems for missiles, rockets and unnamed aircraft (8).

Apparently, Mr Liu saw nothing wrong with selling this information about US military hardware to his home country – China. The other Chinese national was Ming Suan Zhang, who was attempting to export thousands of pounds of aerospace grade carbon fiber to be used in China’s next generation fighter.

Both actions are punishable under laws protecting, “Military potential or nuclear proliferation of other nations or that could be detrimental to the foreign policy or national security of the U.S.” (9)(10)

The dual arrests signal an alarming increase in the incidence of Chinese nationals and Chinese immigrants stealing US trade secrets and technology and selling them to China. Things have gotten so bad that the US government has established a new anti-espionage task force specifically for the Chinese and Iranian threat.

chinese sleeper cells

Whats up with Chinese spying on the US?

It’s not as if the Chinese are only spying and thieving from the US. In that regard, they are agnostic.

Any and all forms of know-how they lack is in their gun sights, and the country of origin does not matter. The problem is that the US tends to be a leader of technology and development across many fields and thus we tend to be a primary target of communist China.

More troublesome, however, is that the Chinese see the US as a potential adversary. The Chinese take a long term view of warfare and are preparing themselves. Who better to attack with espionage than the worlds biggest military power?

While our businesses rush into China to make a buck, the Chinese are stealing us blind. Aside from the loss in profits at the hands of the Chinese, theft by that country is also compromising US national security as well.

And much of that theft is not cloak and dagger stuff of 007, but it is from Chinese nationals working for US firms who have been turned into spies or sell our secrets in promise of a lucrative payout back in China.

To them, the value of security to the country that has been good enough to sponsor them with a green card, is not worth as much as the loyalty they have to the motherland-China. The good news for China is that in the last year alone, the US granted over 70,000 green cards to Chinese nationals.

Of course we can assume that not all of those people have the desire to sell out American secrets, but then again, even if the Communist party can turn 5% of them, that would be 3,500 extra Chinese each year looking to pilfer US secrets.

china sleeper cells

We Open Trade to China and We Lose

By the numbers.

Before you consider this just some piece of yellow journalism, consider the following:

– Since 2000, the US government brought over 115 prosecutions alleging theft of trade secrets and over 80% of those cases which involved governmental entities were traced back to China

– In 2010, almost 90% of all such cases had a link to China.

– In those cases, which were not directly linked to the Chinese government, a high percentage were linked to Chinese companies. The Chinese are going after the most advanced secrets the US has to offer.

– In 2011, the highest number of Chinese espionage cases ever was recorded and it spanned a wide spectrum of technological interests

– Since 2008, at least seven cases have been persecuted each year against individuals spying for China.

-In 2007 alone, there were five cases of individuals spying for China.

Remember the cases in the opening of this article? Those are typical of what is happening with Chinese espionage today.

In the espionage cases tried last year, 10 of the 11 cases were against Chinese nationals. These Chinese, whether in the US on a work permit or naturalized citizens, had decided to steal and sell US trade secrets for a profit.

It is widely known that the Chinese Intelligence bureau seeks out ethnic Chinese to do their dirty work.

The reason is that Chinese can be tribal and tend not to trust outsiders. The Chinese Communists can also leverage a shared sense of ‘us against the world’ and appeal to the Chinese immigrant’s sense of their ‘Chinese-ness’ and loyalty.

china espionage

Turning the Chinese Into Spies

The Communist MSS11 (CIA-like arm of the Chinese government) has many tools at its disposal for turning a Chinese national into a spy.

When doing so, the MSS and communists primarily rely on two different approaches. They first appeal to the Chinese heritage, which exploits not only the sentimental feeling of ethnic pride, but also the need to protect China from ‘foreign invaders’. (12)

The second method they utilize is coercion. Most of those first generation Chinese still have family back in the Chinese mainland. The Communists threaten that harm could come to the emigrant’s family if they were not to help the ‘motherland’. (13) (14)

The Chinese Communists begin the spy recruitment process early. Remember that there are 70,000 Chinese who received green cards? Well add to that 160,000 Chinese who are studying as well. Chinese students are perhaps the most sought after group of the MSS.

The Chinese are old hands at the spy game and very patient. They know that many students will not be turned into spies over night. They also know that with the proper prodding, a student’s mind can be ‘opened’ to the need to protect China.

It is this proactive approach in targeting Chinese college students in the US that is of concern to the US government.

The reasons for targeting US-bound students are many. Not the least of which, however, is the fact that younger people tend to be more idealistic. This is true in the case of China, but there are other issues at play as well.

Those Chinese attending college in the US have not seen the horrific actions of the Communist party play out as have those in their 30’s and above. The younger Chinese have only heard a sanitized version of the Tienanmen massacre of 1989 if they have heard of it at all (15).

In addition, this privileged group of one-child policy children have been under the constant influence of ramped up Communist party propaganda, spurred on by events such as the Olympics and economic growth.

For these youths, the realities of communist China’s past remain a mystery.

Next week: The Making of a Chinese Spy

References & Image Credits:
(1) Chinese Intelligence Operations, Nicholas Eftimiades
(2) CNBC
(3) Chinese Intelligence Operations, Nicholas Eftimiades
(5) CNBC
(8) id.
(9) id.
(10) The New Jersey case is U.S. v. Liu, 2:11-cr-00208, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).
The New York case is U.S. v. Zhang, 12-mj-00829, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
(11) Wikipedia
(12) Chinese Intelligence Operations, Nicholas Eftimiades
(13) Chinese Intelligence Operations, Nicholas Eftimiades
(14) Mainland Chinese typically refer to China as ‘The Motherland’
(15) It never ceases to amaze me how few Chinese who are 27 and under have heard of the massacre.

Originally published on

  • Jim Nugent

    Worst piece of writing ever. I nearly called it ‘journalism’ by accident, but changed it. Whoa, that was moronic on so many levels. The not-so-subtle racism inherent in the piece was astounding. Lobotomise the idiot that wrote this drivel.

  • Jim Nugent

    Good point, Jim. I also found it moronic. By the way, nice name 🙂

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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