|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] Chinese are your friends
|U.S. Secretly Expelled Chinese Officials Suspected of Spying After
Breach of Military Base
Chinese Embassy officials trespassed onto a Virginia base that is home
to Special Operations forces. Their expulsions added to tensions between
Washington and Beijing.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington. The expulsions show the American
government is now taking a harder line against suspected espionage by China.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington. The expulsions show the American
government is now taking a harder line against suspected espionage by
China.Credit...Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times
By Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes
Dec. 15, 2019
Updated 12:54 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — The American government secretly expelled two Chinese
Embassy officials this fall after they drove on to a sensitive military
base in Virginia, according to people with knowledge of the episode. The
expulsions appear to be the first of Chinese diplomats suspected of
espionage in more than 30 years.
American officials believe at least one of the Chinese officials was an
intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover, said six people
with knowledge of the expulsions. The group, which included the
officials’ wives, evaded military personnel pursuing them and stopped
only after fire trucks blocked their path.
The episode in September, which neither Washington nor Beijing made
public, has intensified concerns in the Trump administration that China
is expanding its spying efforts in the United States as the two nations
are increasingly locked in a geopolitical and economic rivalry. American
intelligence officials say China poses a greater espionage threat than
any other country.
In recent months, Chinese officials with diplomatic passports have
become bolder about showing up unannounced at research or government
facilities, American officials said, with the infiltration of the
military base only the most remarkable instance.
The expulsions, apparently the first since the United States forced out
two Chinese Embassy employees with diplomatic cover in 1987, show the
American government is now taking a harder line against suspected
espionage by China, officials said.
Recent episodes of suspected spying add to the broader tensions between
the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies and
biggest strategic rivals. That conflict is heightened by a trade war
that President Trump started in July 2018 and that shows only tentative
signs of abating.
On Oct. 16, weeks after the intrusion at the base, the State Department
announced sharp restrictions on the activities of Chinese diplomats,
requiring them to provide notice before meeting with local or state
officials or visiting educational and research institutions.
At the time, a senior State Department official told reporters that the
rule, which applied to all Chinese Missions in the United States and its
territories, was a response to Chinese regulations imposed years ago
requiring American diplomats to seek permission to travel outside their
host cities or to visit certain institutions.
The Chinese Embassy said in October that the new rules were “in
violation of the Vienna Convention.”
Two American officials said last week that those restrictions had been
under consideration for a while because of growing calls in the American
government for reciprocity, but episodes like the one at the base
accelerated the rollout.
The base intrusion took place in late September on a sensitive
installation near Norfolk, Va. The base includes Special Operations
forces, said the people with knowledge of the incident. Several bases in
the area have such units, including one with the headquarters of the
Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six.
The Chinese officials and their wives drove up to a checkpoint for entry
to the base, said people briefed on the episode. A guard, realizing that
they did not have permission to enter, told them to go through the gate,
turn around and exit the base, which is common procedure in such situations.
But the Chinese officials instead continued on to the base, according to
those familiar with the incident. After the fire trucks blocked them,
the Chinese officials indicated that they had not understood the guard’s
English instructions, and had simply gotten lost, according to people
briefed on the matter.
American officials said they were skeptical that the intruders made an
innocent error and dismissed the idea that their English was
insufficient to understand the initial order to leave.
It is not clear what they were trying to do on the base, but some
American officials said they believed it was to test the security at the
installation, according to a person briefed on the matter. Had the
Chinese officials made it onto the base without being stopped, the
embassy could have dispatched a more senior intelligence officer to
enter the base, the theory goes.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy in Washington did not
reply to requests for comment about the episode. Two associates of
Chinese Embassy officials said they were told that the expelled
officials were on a sightseeing tour when they accidentally drove onto
The State Department, which is responsible for relations with the
Chinese Embassy and its diplomats, and the F.B.I., which oversees
counterintelligence in the United States, declined to comment.
Chinese Embassy officials complained to State Department officials about
the expulsions and asked in a meeting whether the agency was retaliating
for an official Chinese propaganda campaign in August against an
American diplomat, Julie Eadeh. At the time, state-run news
organizations accused Ms. Eadeh, a political counselor in Hong Kong, of
being a “black hand” behind the territory’s pro-democracy protests, and
personal details about her were posted online. A State Department
spokeswoman called China a “thuggish regime.”
So far, China has not retaliated by expelling American diplomats or
intelligence officers from the embassy in Beijing, perhaps a sign that
Chinese officials understand their colleagues overstepped by trying to
enter the base. One person who was briefed on reactions in the Chinese
Embassy in Washington said he was told employees there were surprised
that their colleagues had tried something so brazen.
In 2016, Chinese officers in Chengdu abducted an American Consulate
official they believed to be a C.I.A. officer, interrogated him and
forced him to make a confession. Colleagues retrieved him the next day
and evacuated him from the country. American officials threatened to
expel suspected Chinese agents in the United States, but did not do so.
China is detaining a Canadian diplomat on leave, Michael Kovrig, on
espionage charges, though American officials say he is being held
hostage because Canada arrested a prominent Chinese technology company
executive at the request of American officials seeking her prosecution
in a sanctions evasion case.
For decades, counterintelligence officials have tried to pinpoint
embassy or consulate employees with diplomatic cover who are spies and
assign officers to follow some of them. Now there is growing urgency to
do that by both Washington and Beijing.
Evan S. Medeiros, a senior Asia director at the National Security
Council under President Barack Obama, said he was unaware of any
expulsions of Chinese diplomats or spies with diplomatic cover during
Mr. Obama’s time in office.
If it is rare for the Americans to expel Chinese spies or other embassy
employees who have diplomatic cover, Mr. Medeiros said, “it’s probably
because for much of the first 40 years, Chinese intelligence was not
“But that changed about 10 years ago,” he added. “Chinese intelligence
became more sophisticated and more aggressive, both in human and
For instance, Chinese intelligence officers use LinkedIn to recruit
current or former employees of foreign governments.
This year, a Chinese student was sentenced to a year in prison for
photographing an American defense intelligence installation near Key
West, Fla., in September 2018. The student, Zhao Qianli, walked to where
the fence circling the base ended at the ocean, then stepped around the
fence and onto the beach. From there, he walked onto the base and took
photographs, including of an area with satellite dishes and antennae.
When he was arrested, Mr. Zhao spoke in broken English and, like the
officials stopped on the Virginia base, claimed he was lost.
Chinese citizens have been caught not just wandering on to government
installations but also improperly entering university laboratories and
even crossing farmland to pilfer specially bred seeds.
In 2016, a Chinese man, Mo Hailong, pleaded guilty to trying to steal
corn seeds from American agribusiness firms and give them to a Chinese
company. Before he was caught, Mr. Mo successfully stole seeds developed
by the American companies and sent them back to China, according to
court records. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
The F.B.I. and the National Institutes of Health are trying to root out
scientists in the United States who they say are stealing biomedical
research for other nations, China in particular. The F.B.I. has also
warned research institutions about risks posed by Chinese students and
Some university officials say the campaign unfairly targets Chinese
citizens or ethnic Chinese and smacks of a new Red Scare.
Last month, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former C.I.A. officer, was sentenced
to 19 years in prison, one of several former American intelligence
officials sentenced this year for spying for Beijing.
His work with Chinese intelligence coincided with the demolition of the
C.I.A.’s network of informants in China — one of the biggest
counterintelligence coups against the United States in decades. From
2010 to 2012, Chinese officers killed at least a dozen informants and
imprisoned others. One man and his pregnant wife were shot in 2011 in a
ministry’s courtyard, and the execution was shown on closed-circuit
television, according to a new book on Chinese espionage.
Many in the C.I.A. feared China had a mole in the agency, and some
officers suspected Mr. Lee, though prosecutors did not tie him to the
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