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    Greater China
     Jul 31, 2009
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A midsummer tale of two Chinese spies
By Peter J Brown

Tales of Chinese spies and United States space and satellite technology are making headlines together this month. The cases have arisen just as the US marks the 10th anniversary of the "Cox Report", a lengthy investigation of sensitive US technology transfers and Chinese espionage activities dedicated to obtaining US nuclear weapons and missile technology secrets that was carried out during the Bill Clinton administration.

The investigation was conducted in 1999 by a bi-partisan select committee of the US House of Representatives, chaired by US Representative Christopher Cox.

Dongfan "Greg" Chung, was on July 15 found guilty on six counts of economic espionage and other charges. A former engineer at


various US defense contractors, including Boeing, China-born Chung was convicted of stealing trade secrets related to US space shuttle and rocket technology. The 73-year-old could receive a maximum sentence of more than 90 years in prison when sentenced later this year. Chung's attorney said that he will appeal his conviction.

Earlier in the month, Chinese national Chi Tong Kuok of Macau was arrested in Atlanta and subsequently indicted for conspiring to violate US export law. He had been under investigation since 2006 for using multiple Chinese and Japanese aliases to allegedly acquire US military radio and satellite equipment using eBay and other Internet sources.

These two Chinese spies represent opposite ends of the world of espionage. Chung was a trusted employee, an insider who was employed by US defense contractors that simply took hundreds of thousands of documents home with him after work. Kuok on the other hand was an outsider and an adept virtual networker who exploited the Internet in a very creative fashion. Kuok has admitted that he was working for the Chinese government, while Chung denies it.

According to Stephanie Lieggi, a research associate for the East Asia Non-proliferation Program at the Monterey, California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, both the Chinese space and missile programs benefit from China's ability to access US technology and expertise.

"The Loral/Hughes case [in the early 1990s, which was discussed at length in the Cox Report] was probably the most blatant - albeit inadvertent - instance when China was able to convert what it learned from US sources to improve its rockets accuracy and reliability," said Lieggi. "However, if you look at the speed at which China was able to move forward its rocket systems and ballistic missiles, it is not hard to imagine that foreign dual-use technology and information gathered by Chinese sources played a role in helping the Chinese programs deal with certain technical challenges."

In the Loral/Hughes affair, US companies deliberately shared information with their Chinese counterparts in order to improve the reliability of Chinese launch vehicles. Thus, an act of espionage did not take place. Finding concrete proof today about how much success Chinese spies have enjoyed in their pursuit of US missile and rocket secrets is quite difficult.

"It is hard to find - at least in open-source documentation - strong 'proof' of how China is using illicitly acquired technology for military or space programs. The information gathered by Chinese sources is most likely integrated into larger indigenous programs as [a way to 'leap-frog'] over certain technical hurdles," said Lieggi. "Unless someone with the specific understanding of the technologies involved were able to thoroughly examine the Chinese systems, it would be hard to specifically pinpoint this."

Richard Fisher, a Chinese military expert at the Washington, DC-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, points specifically to the launch of the Asiasat-2 satellite launch in 1995 as an example where China's military espionage apparatus was deeply involved in making sure Chinese engineers were pressing the US side for maximum revelations. In this instance, China was intently focused on increasing its knowledge of so-called satellite kick motors, which are used to propel satellites quickly and safely into their proper orbits.

"The impact of this one transfer has been catastrophic. In 1999, a Chinese scientist told journalist and former US Senate candidate Ken Timmerman and I that data [obtained from a US company] helped them perfect a satellite kick motor, which was then applied to the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile," said Fisher. "Prior to this help, the DF-21 had a record of failure and was on the verge of being cancelled. I have concluded that this same assistance has been applied to enable the PLA [People's Liberation Army] to produce its latest solid-fueled ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missile] and SLBMs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], the DF-31, DF-31A and JL-2. These nuclear missiles are now being deployed or are in advanced development, and all are aimed at Americans."

But beyond this, and other examples in the 1990s which might be described as unfortunate lapses in judgment on the part of US companies at the time, any hard evidence of specific US components which somehow evolved into existing Chinese missile and satellite hardware as the result of any espionage conducted by China over the past decade is just not available in the public domain.

"So much of the hard data on this is shrouded in secrecy that it is almost impossible to get a good grasp on it as an outsider," said Brian Weeden, technical advisor at the Colorado-based Secure World Foundation. "Many of the 'leaks' from unnamed officials and the few heavily publicized cases are done so precisely to advance a political position, which clouds the situation. It is clear that the reliability of PRC [People's Republic of China] space launch vehicles has improved considerably, and by association, probably their ballistic missiles, too."

Complicating matters is the fact that while information can be declared secret or classified for a variety of reasons, sharing information that is not necessarily secret or classified but still subject to export controls by the US government is a serious offense. At the same time, the space-related materials section on the US Munitions List is extraordinarily broad.

"It can be and is often the case that unclassified data falls under export controls," said Weeden. "For example, 'non-automatic, semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms to caliber .50 inclusive, and all components and parts for such firearms' are on the US Munitions List, but they still can be purchased in almost any gun store in the US. Thus, using the phrase 'stolen military secrets' in the case of a violation of controlled [but unclassified] data is incorrect."

There is no question that Chung possessed classified material. However, Weeden points to another heavily publicized case recently, that of Quan-shen Shu, where there is no evidence that actual secrets were involved. "The accused plead guilty to export violations, but did not have a security clearance and did not have any classified data. And in this particular case, the technology involved mainly revolved around that for production and storage of large amounts of liquid oxygen and hydrogen, which is in use by every state which operates large rockets," said Weeden. "Shu was actually bribing a French company to secure a contract for this technology on behalf of a Chinese firm, and it is unclear whether the technology in question was purely American or in use by the French as well."

Still, there is widespread agreement that China is more active than it was a decade ago in terms of espionage aimed at the US missile and space sectors.

"It is unquestioned that the PRC along with other states - some of which are allies of the US - have had a long history of espionage in the US aerospace and defense industry. In some cases this espionage was aimed at economic advantages, in others military capabilities, and in many cases both. So it is likely that the 

Continued 1 2  

Mixed signals over Chinese missiles
(Jul 8, '09)

China's military awaits new satellites
(Jan 22, '09)

Chinese rocket fuel lands US scientist in jail (Nov 20, '08)

Russia and Iran join hands

2. Crazed misery

3. A lesson in imperial paranoia

4. Pakistan turns on its jihadi 'assets'

5. Middle-class suicide

6. The return of Thomas Mun

7. Xinjiang riots confound Islamists

8. Terrorist Kasab and the journey of death

9. North Korea sees an opening

10. Macau chief Ho goes out with a whimper

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET,July 28, 2009)


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