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China steals FBI surveillance secrets through veteran who worked inside as spy

Bill Gertz August 10, 2016 12:20 AM (UTC+8)
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Kun Shan Chun, who has been working with the FBI as an electronics technician for over 19 years, probably supplied Chinese intelligence with valuable counter-surveillance information that would assist the large numbers of Chinese agents operating in the United States in avoiding detection. The case is the latest black eye for the FBI.

A Chinese penetration agent operated secretly within the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and passed valuable intelligence to Beijing for at least 10 years without being detected.

Kun Shan Chun, an FBI employee who pleaded guilty in federal court to having acted as an agent of the Chinese government, is pictured in New York City
Kun Shan Chun, an FBI employee who pleaded guilty in federal court to having acted as an agent of the Chinese government, is pictured in New York City, New York, U.S. August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Nate Raymond

The case of Kun Shan Chun was disclosed by the Justice Department Aug. 1 as part of a plea agreement involving Chun admitting he acted illegally as a Chinese government agent.

Chun, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested in March although authorities kept the case secret until the plea bargain was announced last week.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin said Chun exploited his position as an FBI technician who had access to Top-Secret information by providing “restricted and sensitive FBI information to the Chinese Government.”

No details of the information supplied by Chun to China were provided by court papers made public in the case.

However, as an electronic technician, Chun likely supplied Chinese intelligence with valuable counter-surveillance information that would assist the large numbers of Chinese agents operating in the United States in avoiding detection.

Most of China’s human and technical spying activities in the United States are carried out by the two main services, the civilian Ministry of State Security and militarily what has been called until recently the Second Department of the General Staff Department, known as 2PLA.

China’s espionage against the United States has produced several legendary coups. They included the theft during the 1990s of secrets related to all deployed nuclear warheads through recruiting American scientists at nuclear weapons labs.

A second major success was the theft of technology related to the Navy’s Aegis battle management system, built around a high-technology radar that allows warships to track targets ranging from space to on land thousands of miles away.

Chinese agents stole the Aegis technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s and quickly adapted the system to Chinese advanced warships.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military stated that Beijing uses a variety of methods to gather military and dual-use technologies including cyber-attacks and exploiting Chinese nationals, such as students and researchers, who serve as procurement agents or intermediaries for Chinese officials.

“China very likely uses its intelligence services and employs other illicit approaches that violate U.S. laws and export controls to obtain key national security and export-restricted technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials unobtainable through other means,” the report said.

In addition to supporting Chinese counter-surveillance efforts, Chun as a trusted agent operating inside the FBI also could have supplied the Bureau with false and misleading disinformation about Chinese intelligence-gathering targets and priorities. Similar disinformation was supplied in the past by Chinese agents working covertly for the FBI.

Chun worked within the FBI’s largest field office in New York since 1997 as an electronic specialist at the Computerized Central Monitoring Facility, a part of the FBI’s technical division.

As a technician, Chun also would have had detailed knowledge of the FBI’s secure computer networks, information valuable to Chinese intelligence hackers who are known to target such government information systems.

Court papers made public in the case did not reveal why it took the FBI over a decade to uncover the Chinese spy. The case is the latest black eye for the FBI that is responsible for both law enforcement and domestic U.S. counterintelligence.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the spy case was more serious because Chun was an FBI employee and thus “the threat is all the more serious and the betrayal all the more duplicitous.”

According to court papers, Chun since 2006 worked with Chinese officials operating under cover as representatives of the Zhuhai Kolion Technology Co. Ltd., a Guangdong-based company that makes toner cartridges for copy machines. Chun was born in Guangdong Province.

Based on information outlined in the FBI complaint in the case, a European security service appears to be the first to have uncovered Chun’s meetings in Europe with Chinese intelligence handlers during a trip in July 2015 to Germany and France.

Around the same time, an FBI undercover agent was used to approach Chun, who then disclosed to the undercover FBI agent that he was willing to pass sensitive information to the Chinese government.

Chun then arranged for the undercover agent to provide sensitive information to Chinese officials.

According to a court document summarizing the case, between 2011 until his arrest in March, Chun acted on behalf of one or more officials of the People’s Republic of China and “collected sensitive information from the FBI for transmittal to one or more Chinese government officials…”

The FBI’s record for halting Chinese intelligence operations in the United States has been poor.

Chun is the FBI’s first major Chinese penetration agent to be uncovered inside the FBI since the case of Katrina Leung, a long-time double agent for China who worked for the FBI between 1982 and 2002.

Leung falsely convinced the FBI she was loyal to the United State but was secretly recruited by the Ministry of State Security in 1984. She had an affair with her FBI handler, FBI Special Agent J.J. Smith, who allowed Leung to read classified documents he had taken from the FBI.

In addition to secrets, Leung was able to dissuade FBI counterintelligence officials from using other Chinese sources of information, which helped Beijing to influence American intelligence about China for years.

Bill Gertz
Bill Gertz is a journalist and author who has spent decades covering defense and national security affairs. He is the author of six national security books.
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