Our chief ri­val in in­tel­li­gence wars

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Even ad­mir­ers of the late J. Edgar Hoover (count me among them) rec­og­nize that the old man stayed on duty long af­ter wis­dom dic­tated re­tire­ment. But de­spite his flaws, I sug­gest that it is only in the post-Hoover FBI, when his no­to­ri­ously strict dis­ci­pline soft­ened, that we could see the spec­ta­cle of two agents work­ing on Chinese coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence suc­cumb­ing to the sex­ual al­lures of a “source” who also was an agent of the Chinese Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity (MSS).

Fur­ther, al­though the agents were con­cur­rent bed mates of the woman for years, nei­ther knew the other was shar­ing the charms of Ka­t­rina Leung, co­de­named “Par­lor Maid.” Is it un­kind to sug­gest that the agents’ trade­craft was sorely flawed?

David Wise, who has been writ­ing about in­tel­li­gence since the early 1960s and is, in my view, the best in the busi­ness, now turns his con­sid­er­able tal­ent to a lit­tle-noted facet of the es­pi­onage wars: the on­go­ing cam- paign by the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China to steal U.S. nu­cle­ar­weaponry se­crets. For years, of course, Soviet spy­ing spawned movies, best-sell­ing books and in­ces­sant pub­lic­ity else­where. But since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, China has be­come “Amer­ica’s chief ri­val” in the in­tel­li­gence wars and has scored many sig­nal and un­her­alded suc­cesses.

Par­lor Maid is one of dozens of cases, clus­tered on the West Coast, that Mr. Wise ex­am­ines in “Tiger Trap.” Based on ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with FBI coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, Mr. Wise of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing primer on how MSS trade­craft dif­fers from that of the old KGB. As vet­eran agent Paul Moore ex­plained, “China nor­mally does not pay money for in­tel­li­gence. The typ­i­cal Chinese way is, you help the Chinese, they will help you to de­velop an ex­port busi­ness to sell cheap salad bowls to Kmart.” And rather than re­cruit­ing agents, MSS re­lies on “in­for­mal con­tacts to gather in­for­ma­tion.”

Fur­ther, “the prin­ci­ple that the Chinese ap­ply is sim­ple enough: Peo­ple will al­most never com­mit es­pi­onage, but they will of­ten be in­dis­creet if they can be put in the right cir­cum­stances. The root prob­lem is peo­ple mak­ing mis­takes, rather than peo­ple com­mit­ting es­pi­onage.” Sci­en­tists are es­pe­cially sus­cep­ti­ble to let­ting slip se­cret in­for­ma­tion in ex­changes with their Chinese coun­ter­parts.

Many cases were bro­ken when CIA abroad en­listed walk-ins and de­fec­tors and milked them for leads on MSS. Skilled FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors then con­verted ob­scure leads into cases. For in­stance, agents pho­tographed a key in the lug­gage of a man trav­el­ing to China. A de­fec­tor later said that an in­di­vid­ual spy­ing for MSS stayed in a cer­tain ho­tel room when in Peip­ing (Bei­jing). The key proved to be for that very room, and the man was ar­rested.

As to Par­lor Maid and her FBI se­rial lovers, the case ended in dis­ar­ray be­cause of blun­ders com­mit­ted by the Jus­tice Depart­ment in draft­ing a plea agree­ment. Sloppy phrase­ol­ogy was in­ter­preted to mean that an agent could not talk to Par­lor Maid’s lawyers, deny­ing her the right to con­front her ac­cusers. Ma­jor charges were dis­missed; she pleaded guilty to one mi­nor tax count and was sen­tenced to three years pro­ba­tion and a $10,000 fine. (The FBI paid her $1,718,889 over 19 years for her ser­vices as a source.) Agent J.J. Smith was sen­tenced to three months house ar­rest and three years pro­ba­tion; col­league Wil­liam Cleve­land was per­mit­ted to re­sign with­out charges. A quib­ble: I must fault Mr. Wise for dis­in­ter­ring an old Na­tional Enquirer story al­leg­ing that Richard Nixon had a sex­ual af­fair with a Hong Kong night­club host­ess. The yarn started with a vague re­port a Bri­tish trea­sury of­fi­cer gave to an FBI agent in Hong Kong in 1967, be- fore Nixon was elected pres­i­dent. To his credit, Mr. Wise tracked down the woman, now liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, who flatly de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. I sug­gest that a writer of Mr. Wise’s cal­iber should dis­miss such rub­bish rather than giv­ing it fur­ther cur­rency. Mr. Wise also chose not to pur­sue a key el­e­ment of an im­por­tant Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion coun­ter­move against Chinese theft of U.S. se­crets. In the hy­per­secret Op­er­a­tion Farewell, con­ceived by an un­sung White House ge­nius named Gus Weiss, the Chinese were per­mit­ted to “steal” high-tech equip­ment that was en­gi­neered to fail, spec­tac­u­larly, in due course. The CIA, the FBI and the U.S. Cus­toms Ser­vice re­peat­edly scammed in the Chinese (and the Sovi­ets, for that mat­ter) for years.

Mr. Wise sug­gests that eco­nom­ics and fi­nan­cial rea­sons con­trib­ute to Wash­ing­ton’s some­what muted re­sponse to Chinese spy­ing — “the am­bigu­ous and mu­tu­ally de­pen­dent na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States and China in the 21st cen­tury.” Mean­while, Mr. Wise con­tends, “China may be Amer­ica’s sin­gle most ef­fec­tive and dan­ger­ous ad­ver­sary.”

Joseph C. Goulden’s re­vised edi­tion of “SpyS­peak: The Dic­tio­nary of In­tel­li­gence” will be pub­lished by Dover Books in the fall.

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