China is engaged in a major domestic propaganda program to deter and counter the activities of foreign spies.
Recent reports in official Chinese publications that are reflective of official but secret Beijing policies indicate China is targeting foreign intelligence operations, carried out by both human agents and sophisticated cyber attackers.
The Chinese government long has held that foreign forces are working to subvert the communist system and steal its secrets. Chinese commentators frequently rail against the CIA and the United States for their alleged role in fomenting “color revolutions” in China, and have blamed Hong Kong’s independent pro-democracy movement as one example of the subversion effort.
Beijing’s counterspy program was prompted in part by disclosures of secret documents made public by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA official revealed extensive US and allied electronic intelligence gathering against China, both from government and state-run corporation networks.
Outspoken Chinese commentator and noted hardline nationalist Dai Xu, an air force colonel and professor at the National Defense University, has called Snowden “one of the greatest international warriors of the 21st Century” for his exposure of the spying activities of what he called the US “evil empire.”
Dai has stated in online postings that Chinese who “lick the US boot” have been left ashamed by revelations of US cyber espionage. The outspoken colonel also has criticized the former director of Google in China as “hacker for the United States.”
A feature of the counterspy program was disclosed on Nov. 1, the one-year anniversary of the imposition of a new PRC counter-espionage law. A tip line was opened that will be used by the Chinese to report foreign spying activity. The reporting channel was set up by the Communist Party’s Jilin Province national security department in a notice posted online.
The notice says all Chinese are required to report to authorities through the telephone tip hotline. The goal: To “assist national security organs in legally and promptly defending against, preventing, and punishing espionage activities.”
Types of activities to be reported provide clues to the spy problems the Chinese are facing. The hotline should be used to report on “espionage organizations,” their agents and affiliated domestic and foreign institutions.
Also, authorities should be notified about people who order, carry out or fund activities threatening China’s security through “stealing, spying, purchasing, or otherwise illegally obtaining state secrets or intelligence.”
The notice also defines spying activities as inciting, luring or bribing state employees to provide secrets “on behalf of enemies.” Also to be reported is anyone providing attack targets to foreign powers.
To spur counterspy reporting, Chinese authorities are offering unspecified “rewards” for those who provide truthful and accurate information. The amount will be based on the importance of the report.
“Strict secrecy will be maintained on behalf of the reporting individual and necessary protective measures will be provided,” the notice says. “For those who maliciously concoct stories, give false reports, or trump up false charges to frame others and thus produce undesirable outcomes, they shall be held legally responsible in accordance with law.”
Days before the Nov. 1 announcement, China’s Global Times newspaper revealed in detail how foreign intelligence agencies recruit agents to provide secrets.
Citing cases of those arrested for spying, the newspaper said intelligence officers use “cash and emotional manipulation” to get Chinese citizens to spy.
“Retired soldiers, college students, teachers, military enthusiasts, and employees of companies and government bodies whose work relates to national defense are all common targets,” the Oct. 28 report said.
Sources for official leaks also include those who are engaged in handling confidential information at their workplaces; scholars and experts at major scientific institutions or those working as consultants to senior decision-making organs.
“Whoever steals, spies on, or unlawfully supplies State secrets or intelligence to overseas agencies may face punishments up to the death penalty, according to China’s criminal law,” the report bluntly stated in a not-so-subtle warning.
Over 70% of leaked information in China is obtained from the Internet, reflecting the large-scale digitization in China where over 600 million “netizens” are online.
A major source of intelligence for the United States and other countries comes from the vibrant military enthusiasts websites revealing secrets ranging from the new J-20 stealth fighter, to the latest Dong Feng-41 multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile.(BILL GERTZ)
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