Page 1 of 2 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
"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
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