China's spying on U.S.
June 14th, 2011
02:14 PM ET

China's spying on U.S.

Editor’s Note:  David Wise is the author of numerous books on national security, intelligence and espionage. His latest book, Tiger Trap:  America’s Secret Spy War with China, was published June 14 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

By David Wise - Special to CNN

For almost half a century during the Cold War, the world focused on the global espionage battle between the United States and the Soviet Union. The duel between the CIA and the KGB, portrayed in countless books, films and news stories captured the public imagination.

Espionage became a kind of entertainment thanks in no small part to the fictional exploits of James Bond. This fiction masked a cold reality.

In the actual conflict, spies and their agents died. Lives were shattered. The KGB's supermoles - Aldrich Ames in the CIA and Robert Hanssen in the FBI - stole U.S. secrets by the trunkful and betrayed agents working for U.S. intelligence. Many of those agents were executed.

A the East-West intelligence battles played out in back alleys across the globe, scant attention was paid to the espionage operations of a rising global power– China. And scant attention was paid to the efforts of U.S. counterintelligence (not always successful) to counter Beijing's attempts to acquire America's secrets.

Inside the FBI, Soviet spies were regarded as the principal quarry. Chinese counterintelligence was relegated to a back seat. Yet, China has spied on America for decades with some spectacular but little known results.

During World War II, Soviet spies penetrated the Manhattan Project and stole U.S. atomic secrets. That was not lost on China. In the decades after World War II, Chinese espionage was principally aimed at stealing U.S. nuclear weapons data. By acquiring those secrets, China could bypass years of research and testing and speed its own development of nuclear weapons.

With its modernization efforts devastated by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China coveted such shortcuts. So the United States, particularly the nuclear weapons labs at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, became its primary target.

The FBI suspected that Gwo-Bao Min, an engineer at the Livermore lab, had passed the secrets of the neutron bomb to China. The case was given the code-name TIGER TRAP by the Bureau. Although the FBI gathered considerable evidence, the Justice Department declined to authorize an arrest.  However, Min was forced to resign from the nuclear weapons lab.

Another priority of Chinese intelligence has been to infiltrate U.S. counterintelligence.  The F.B.I. was penetrated until 2002 by Katrina Leung, a prominent figure in the Chinese American community in Los Angeles who worked as an F.B.I. asset for twenty years under the code name PARLOR MAID.

Leung was having affairs with the bureau's two top agents on the West Coast responsible for Chinese counterintelligence, James J. Smith and William V. Cleveland, Jr.  She fed F.B.I. secrets to China’s foreign intelligence service, the M.S.S., for years, telling investigators she filched them from Smith's briefcase during their trysts at her home.

F.B.I. director Robert S. Mueller III assigned his top counterintelligence agent, Leslie G. Wiser, Jr., to go to Los Angeles in 2002 and investigate. Operating with a team of handpicked agents from a secret location in Santa Monica, Wiser broke open the case. Leung and Smith were arrested. Smith pleaded guilty to lying about his affair with Leung. She, too, pleaded guilty to lying about their affair and to failing to report some of her income from the F.B.I. Neither was sentenced to prison. And the government had avoided a sensational espionage trial in which the Bureau’s secrets might have been aired.

The CIA was also penetrated by Chinese intelligence. A mole named Larry Wu-Tai Chin worked for Chinese intelligence for more than 30 years until he was caught by the FBI in 1985.

There have been many more recent examples of Chinese spying against the United States.  Dongfan "Greg" Chung volunteered to spy for China. Chung, a naturalized U.S. citizen, worked in the aerospace industry in southern California for thirty years.

At Boeing he was a stress analyst on the space shuttle.  Chung sent twenty-four manuals from Rockwell to China on the B-1 bomber. When the F.B.I. searched his home in California in 2006 they were astonished to find 300,000 pages of Boeing documents hidden in the house pertaining to the space shuttle, rockets and military aircraft.  Some of the documents were in a crawl space underneath the house. Chung was arrested, convicted and sentenced in 2010 to almost sixteen years in prison.

China and the United States have a mutual dependence and a common interest in avoiding conflict.  Without exaggerating the danger of Chinese espionage, it is a fact that China’s spying on America is ongoing, current and shows no sign of diminishing.

Chinese computer hackers have penetrated the Pentagon, the State Department and U.S. companies, such as Google.

Americans should be aware that China, when it can, steals U.S. secrets. The espionage battle is no less real for being largely unseen.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of David Wise.

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Topics: China • Spying • United States

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    Why is this David Wise making a big deal out of this? Actually, we've been spying on China since before the end of the civil war over there in 1949. We have some right-wing nutjobs here accusing China of stealing our technology, but how much did we steal from them or better yet,Russia? It would do well to remember back in 1976 when a Russian pilot defected to the West, flew his MIG-25 to Eastern Asia and handed it over to the American aircraft engineers to study.

    June 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Wise

      What an idio!. For one to think ... that China, has not far more to gain by stealing US secrets.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • levend

      Sometimes its not about stealing Tech. Sometimes its about industrial espionage. Damage factories that directly compete with yours. Hamper the development of each other. So you both are idiots, Yes US spied on China, China Spied on US. Its all about national interest.

      June 29, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • Take it easy...

      Onesmallvoice: The pilot in question was Victor Belenko and his defection revealed that the MiG-25 was an inferior aircraft; it didn't revolutionize our aerospace industry because it was a piece of junk. An interesting story, but a poor illustration of your point. Almost all nations spy on each other to some degree, but many of China's successes are based on reverse-engineering somebody else's work and improving upon it, and they are very good at it. "Right-Wing Nutjobs" are not the only people (correctly) asserting that China has stolen technology from all over the world, but you would be more convincing if you took the emotion out of your argument. Cheers.

      July 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • prince

      i'll have you know that the MIG only confirmed what we already knew that the US fighter could dominate with proper training. The red army is our enemy. we've fought them since WW2, korea, I fought them in vietnam i'm proud i fought them. if they would start a conflict, i believe I still have one more fight in me. in fact i know it. don't underestimate our enemy. they will be whores, book worms, the women will try to turn our men, they will be good at duplication but poor at invention. they'll work to get us economicly crippled because the next big war will be atomic. the chinese know a ground war is to their advantage. our draft will kick in. 2m men will meet them in the china sea, china air, china land and burn them back to the mountains. Mean while they love a thief they make heros of them. HELP US DEFEND OUR NATION!

      July 1, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Espionage is as old as mankind. Everybody has secrets and curiosity is human. During the cold war Russia and the U.S. engaged themselves in spying on each other, mainly for military and state security purposes. In order to spur its R&D China indulges itself in industrial espionage and taget hi-tech industries abroad. Gone are the days with trysts between moles and exchange of documents against cash in envelopes. Hacking is easier and the risk of being caught less likelier. It would add more suspense if a third party could intercept and hijack the stolen data.

    June 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  3. Thatsnotrue:[

    .............................................................................................there are spies in every country, remember the US caught a Russian spy.........why's this a surprise or a big deal, red scare again?

    June 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Sean

    Gwo-Bao Min,Wu-Tai Chin; Dongfan Chung;
    Three spies mentioned above are definitely NOT, at least NOT Chinese people of mainland of China. Because we don't have this kind letter combination on given name or family name (Gwo,Chin,Chung), In Chinese language, there is definitely no Gwo Chin, Chung. Everybody who learn Chinese know this, So it mean US journal is cheating!!! Cheating! Liar!!! what's your purpose? If you want to cheat the world, please learn Chinese first and study hard!!! Chinese language is a culture combination is not a meaningless letter combination as you English.

    June 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • bjhayes

      Sean Ok I understand your views but understand that most people don't understand the culture of different regions of the world. As far as the world of spies goes everyone is spying on everyone else. It's the world we live in and it's not about to change.

      June 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • VL

      Why is spying has to do with names?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • ChuckFromAl

      He's a Chinese government employee trying to spin this article off as a lie to prevent China from looking bad. If he can get the conspiracy theorists to agree with him then he thinks no one will believe that the Chinese are spying on the US.

      June 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  5. Sean


    June 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • eojo


      July 6, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Trey

      It is the China's state pciloy. This state employees there citizens to steal intellectual property from around the World. What a shame.

      February 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  6. das


    If you knew anything about what you are talking about, you'd realize all of these people were spying for China. They article doesn't say they were mainland native Chinese, but they most certainly were spying directly for the PRC. Nice attempt at distraction, though, "Sean".

    June 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  7. SarahPalin

    I like Chinese food. We you elect me president, I will open our borders to the Chinese to bring more food with them. My rich republican friends will send more jobs to China to pay for that delicious food.

    June 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  8. citizenUSA

    Where has this guy been for the 50+ years?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  9. vspec

    are you sure china is spying, are you we are not just handing them the info they want?

    you know because china does technically own the usa now.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  10. Dex

    So what? America spies on everyone, engages in illegal wars, torture and even screws over their own allies.

    Screw the US as well.

    June 24, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Wise

      You are one sick narrow minded person. If you are in the US – leave now – stop your whinning!

      June 25, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  11. Brian Geary

    When your on top everyone else wants to take your place. We have a wonderful country here and all Americans would fight to protect it. In China there is a lot more have nots then haves so good luck recruiting troops when half of your people wish they were here in America. God bless the USA captivating hearts & minds for over 200 years.

    June 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  12. ro ro

    Don't see why we all can't just get along, no matter where your are from we are all human, this paranoia in the world will eventually destroy humans and make us extinct. lets talk about more important issues such as climate change, and the poor that suffers daily across the entire planet. Thanks and have a nice day everyone

    June 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  13. LTF

    Don't act surprised. Don't act like you don't know it was happening. Don't act like it's a big deal.
    Of course China (and everyone else) is spying on the US.
    The US would be a fool not to spy on China (and everyone else).

    June 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  14. M

    China's theft of military technology is in full complicity with US industry and government at all levels. After all, there is no need to spend billions to develop a F-36 if your "enemy" does not have a F-35. This pattern started in the cold war and will continue unabated as long as there is money to be made.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  15. Johannes Ek

    Interesting... But the story includes only the A part. The B part, about American spying on China, which would also be so much longer I suppose, is cut off. How can you sustain the status of impartial journalism, if more and more one-sided articles start to appear in such vast numbers on these GPS pages too. This is disappointing as I've before relied on the quality and impartiality of GPS and CNN reporting.

    July 4, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  16. EN Nyarko

    China is just stealing back what US, Russia and Britain stole from Germany during WWII. Period!

    July 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  17. KINO

    What's the freaking big deal! You don't think spying goes both ways? There's been our spy planes, drones, on ground personals on any key Countries. I'm not surprise we have spies on NATO "friends".

    July 12, 2011 at 5:09 am |

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