Caught in China’s spy web


National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Black­well

It is, in many ways, a clas­sic im­mi­grant suc­cess story. Leav­ing China to study at col­lege and univer­sity in Toronto, Yang Wang de­cided to stay in Canada af­ter his school­ing ended, started a fam­ily and helped build a busi­ness that now earns him more than $100,000 a year.

But in 2006 — the same year Wang be­came a per­ma­nent res­i­dent — his new life took a dis­turb­ing turn. On a trip to visit his par­ents in Nan­jing he was scooped up by Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence, held for two weeks and in­ter­ro­gated re­lent­lessly.

In a case that of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse at the unique way Chi­nese spies try to ex­tend their ten­ta­cles into Canada, what gov­ern­ment lawyers call “the vacuum- cleaner ap­proach,” Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity (MSS) oper­a­tives ac­cused Wang of sell­ing in­for­ma­tion to a Tai­wanese spy — a friend at Toronto’s York Univer­sity. They said they would jail him and ruin his fam­ily if he didn’t co-op­er­ate. Among his as­sign­ments was to re­port back on Chi­nese pro- democ­racy groups and Falun Gong mem­bers in Canada.

He de­nies he car­ried out those tasks, but in 2014 the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency — learn­ing from Wang him­self of his re­la­tion­ship with China’s in­ter­na­tional spy agency — deemed him in­ad­mis­si­ble to Canada for al­legedly hav­ing worked for for­eign in­tel­li­gence. It meant that he could be de­ported, leav­ing his wife and two chil­dren be­hind.

The Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Board ( IRB) later over­turned the CBSA de­ci­sion, cit­ing, in part, tes­ti­mony from two U. S. ex­perts. But the gov­ern­ment is ap­peal­ing that de­ci­sion, con­vinced the 39- year- old is or was a spy for Bei­jing.

“While he was a stu­dent at York Univer­sity, Mr. Wang made a de­ci­sion that he re­grets to this day,” say writ­ten ar­gu­ments CBSA lawyers filed ear­lier in the case. “Mr. Wang en­tered the world of es­pi­onage.”

But the IRB said Wang’s con­ver­sa­tions un­der duress with Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence were “more small talk than spy­ing” and no bar to his liv­ing in Canada.

Wang him­self thought Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties would be sym­pa­thetic when he told them about his grilling at the hands of the MSS, and is “shocked” they’re seek­ing to throw him out of the coun­try, said his lawyer, Ha­dayt Nazami.

“It’s all rather bizarre for him,” Nazami said. “There was never any in­tel­li­gence ex­changed, he doesn’t have any in­tel­li­gence to ex­change … I don’t even know how it be­came an is­sue.”

The ap­peal is set to re­sume soon, and a Fed­eral Court judge last month up­held a rul­ing com­pelling Wang to tes­tify, again.

The MSS is a “very un­usual in­tel­li­gence agency,” dis­tinct from Western coun­ter­parts like the CIA and MI6, said Wes­ley Wark, a Univer­sity of Ot­tawa pro­fes­sor and in­tel­li­gence ex­pert.

China’s use of com­puter hack­ing and other meth­ods to steal mil­i­tary- in­dus­trial se­crets is well doc­u­mented, with a Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice brief- ing note last year say­ing it re­mains a ma­jor in­tel­li­gence threat.

But Wark said the MSS also casts a wide net, co-opt­ing mem­bers of the Chi­nese di­as­pora who could one day land in key jobs, or could sim­ply pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on what China per­ceives as over­seas threats. Those would in­clude the Falun Gong, sup­port­ers of Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence and ad­vo­cates of democ­racy in China.

“They do re­ally en­gage in mass collection, us­ing as many in­stru­ments to gather as much in­for­ma­tion as they can,” Wark said. “It poses a huge chal­lenge for coun­tries like Canada in terms of their counter- in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties … You can’t cast the whole Chi­nese Cana­dian com­mu­nity un­der sus­pi­cion.”

Wang ar­rived in Canada in 1998, study­ing first at Seneca Col­lege, then at York, where he earned an ad­min­is­tra­tive-stud­ies de­gree, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments based largely on state­ments he made to the CBSA and at an im­mi­gra­tion hearing.

It was at univer­sity he be­came friends with Mak Zenj, a stu­dent from Tai­wan, who asked him for in­for­ma­tion on his home­land, and then of­fered him $3,000 for doc­u­ments about China, CBSA sub­mis­sions say. Wang obliged, get­ting paid a num­ber of times for turn­ing over open- source in­for­ma­tion he had sim­ply gleaned from the In­ter­net.

He had al­ready con­cluded “Mak” worked for Tai­wan’s Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence Bu­reau (MIB), though Wark says it is also pos­si­ble the friend was re­ally a false- flag op­er­a­tive for China, de­signed to place Wang in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion. Re­gard­less, Mak left Canada in 2003 while Wang put down roots and started Reach Max En­ter­prises, a plas­tics re­cy­cling firm with a plant in China that pays him an av­er­age of $100,000 a year in div­i­dends.

He was stand­ing out­side his par­ents’ house dur­ing that 2006 visit when three or f our se­cu­rity of­fi­cers hus­tled him into a car and took him away. Wang wasn’t freed for an­other two weeks.

MSS agents who called them­selves “Mr. Chang and Mr. Chong” re­vealed they knew about his re­la­tion­ship with Mak, and threat­ened to throw him in prison in­def­i­nitely and ruin his par­ents, a doc­tor and univer­sity pro­fes­sor. Wang was ter­ri­fied, be­liev­ing he might even die, says the 2015 IRB de­ci­sion in his favour.

He signed a doc­u­ment of some kind, pro­vided ex­ten­sive in­for­ma­tion on friends and ac­quain­tances in Canada and pledged to help the se­cu­rity ser­vice in fu­ture. He met with Chang and Chong on two later vis­its to China, and kept the same phone num­ber so he could field their calls. Wang fol­lowed through on in­struc­tions to re­new con­tacts with Mak, though he gar­nered lit­tle use­ful in­for­ma­tion.

But when the spies asked him to join Chi­nese- Cana­dian as­so­ci­a­tions in Canada, and to re­port on the ac­tiv­i­ties of Falun Gong, Wang says he told them he was “too busy.” The agents ended con­tact with him en­tirely af­ter 2010.

Gov­ern­ment lawyers ar­gue it “de­fies the bounds of cred­i­bil­ity” that he could have so eas­ily sloughed off the re­quest to spy within Canada, and sug­gest that even if Wang has not been in touch with the MSS re­cently, he could be a sleeper agent – a “fish at the bot­tom of the ocean” in Chi­nese spy par­lance – who will be ac­ti­vated later.

His l awyers cited two ex­perts on Chi­nese spy­ing – Peter Mat­tis of the Jamestown Foun­da­tion in Washi ng­ton, D. C., and Joseph Fit­sanakis of Coastal Carolina Univer­sity – who said there is no ev­i­dence Wang was any­thing more than an in­vol­un­tary “con­tact” of the agency.

“This case has lit­tle to do with Canada, other than the fact that it partly took place on Cana­dian soil,” Wang’s lawyers wrote.


A Chi­nese- Cana­dian busi­ness­man is fight­ing gov­ern­ment al­lega­tions that he spied for China, in a case that il­lus­trates the Chi­nese “vacuum cleaner” ap­proach to in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

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