Behind the Chinese Spy Roundup

The mainstream American media hasn’t been deaf or blind to the case of four suspected Chinese spies being arrested across the nation last week, but the story hasn’t exactly caught fire either. A Google news search Monday listed only 105 stories on the case and most of those were on small or specialist web sites or in overseas publications. And what mainstream coverage there was tended to follow the old Joe Friday “Just the facts, ma’am” approach of the old Dragnet TV show.

But those facts are just the top of an enormous iceberg looming ahead of the United States. They reveal the focused challenge to American national security by the harnessed enormous resources of the People’s Republic of China. And they also document the real concern of senior officials in the FBI and the U.S. national security establishment to awaken the American people to the scope and nature of the threat.

On February 18 the FBI arrested four suspects, one of whom was an employee of the Department of Defense, Pentagon analyst Gregg Bergersen, 51 in Virginia. Across the country, Doongfan “Greg” Chung, 72, a veteran engineer for Boeing, was netted in California. Two immigrants from China, Tai Shen Kuo, 58, and Yu Xin Kang, rounded out the catch. They were captured down in New Orleans.

Federal officials said the men had been involved in two separate and unrelated espionage operations. The Chinese were pumping Bergensen for know-how in the U.S. space shuttle program. There was no hint of ideological passion for China’s authoritarian government as a motive. The days of useful dupes for Lenin and Mao are long such past as such. The alleged motive was money — lots of it.

Other targets of the spy rings, the Feds said, were communications technology, which is simultaneously the jewel in the crown of America’s global military supremacy but also, if its secrets can be accessed and broken, the potential Achilles heel of U.S. power. Court documents on the case said the spy handlers also wanted details about U.S. weapon systems that had been sold to Taiwan. Chung was also quizzed about Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster, the giant air transport aircraft and the Delta IV missile.

These subjects are highly revealing about China’s strategic intentions and they are consistent with what we know about the strengths and weaknesses of China’s arms industry. The Chinese have concentrated on an enormous military build up on their southeast coast facing Taiwan over the past 12 years. Its primary aim is to prevent U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from operating freely in the Taiwan Strait to protect Taiwan from missile bombardments or even amphibious landings from the Mainland. In 2005, the largest joint military exercises ever held to that point between China and Russia practiced the problems of a large scale amphibious landing against a hostile, defended shore. The Chinese wanted the war games held close to Taiwan but that was too much even for the Russians so they were held far to the north on the Shandung Peninsula.

Targeting the space shuttle makes sense in terms of the Chinese drive to challenge U.S. preeminence in space. China in January 2007 startled the world by successfully destroying one of its satellites by exploding another one in an orbit close to it. Many other so-called Chinese weather satellites already have orbits remarkably close to important U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance or communications satellites which can be tracked and identified as such through their radio signal emissions. And China’s manned space program, while extremely slow by U.S. and Russian standards, has enormous resources and political determination behind it. Accessing U.S. space shuttle technology would therefore be an enormous boon to the Chinese in their attempts to become the leading manned exploration power in space.

For all the enormous and still rapidly growing scale of the main Chinese industrial base around Guangdong — what used to be known as Canton — the Chinese have so far not been able to reverse engineer or home produce their own state-of-the-art heavy lift air transport. Yet at the same time they are already budgeting to produce a powerful rapid deployment military airlift capability second only to that of the United States. The attempt to get as much engineering detailed information on the C-17 has to be understood in that context.

The U.S. mainstream media, with their usual attention span of a nervous tick, will do the odd major story when a sensational public development like last week’s FBI swoops is dropped into its lap. But then it will forget about the issue –and the dangers it raises — for another four or five years. The plain-spoken warning of Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that China’s espionage operations in this country are now operating on a Cold War scale will be quickly forgotten, or shrugged off as some kind of cheap fear mongering.

But McConnell knew what he was talking about. The threat is real — and conservatives above all others ought to be awake to it.