02 May 2008

From the Washington Post, April 3rd, after the verdict in the Chi Mak espionage trial:

“The Chinese government, in an enterprise that one senior official likened to an “intellectual vacuum cleaner,” has deployed a diverse network of professional spies, students, scientists and others to systematically collect U.S. know-how, the officials said.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, April 13th, announcing the Minerva Consortia (h/t Danger Room):

“The Chinese government publishes a tremendous amount of information about military and technological developments on an open-source basis. However, it is often inconvenient, if not impossible, for American researchers to get access to this material since it is often available only in China. A real – or virtual – archive of documents acquired by researchers and others abroad would help us track Chinese military and technological developments.”

Yes! Because U.S. academics should be thrilled to copy and export unclassified public domain data from China after the U.S. locked up someone for the rest of his natural life for doing the same thing.

The Washington Post quotes Joel Brenner, head of counterintelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, saying “Chi Mak acknowledged that he had been placed in the United States more than 20 years earlier, in order to burrow into the defense-industrial establishment to steal secrets.” If that was the case, that’s some serious espionage. I’d wish somebody could explain to me, though, why it is that the Feds had wiretaps and videotapes giving evidence that he was meeting a Chinese intelligence operative, yet still couldn’t charge him with espionage.

Probably most disturbing is that the prosecutor, arguing why he believed Chi Mak should have the book thrown at him, went with this approach:

Staples noted that the disks Mak attempted to send to China were encrypted, a clear sign that he knew it was illegal to export them.

“Why encrypt if it wasn’t going to hurt the U.S.,” he said.

Encryption suggests guilt? That’s creepy. Midnight rendezvouses, secret code words, a shoe phone - those are signs of a spy. PGP? I hope not. Is it also suggestive of guilt if he locked the briefcase that carried the disks?

The Minerva Consortia idea kinda loses some appeal when you consider that some or perhaps none of the material Chi Mak was carrying was classified, some of it he wrote himself, and I can even download some of it right now, if I can just find a pirated IEEE website password on Baidu that works, which is likely with a little effort. Let’s also not forget Wen Ho Lee’s stolen “crown jewels” were almost entirely in the public domain until after he was arrested. But most importantly, it treads close to what the U.S. government and others have accused China of using, namely the “thousand grains of sand” strategy (supposedly a Chinese proverb, though I can’t find attribution. It’s not Sun Tzu, as far as I can tell).

That aside, I’m not sure what Gates is referring to when he says that open source information on the Chinese military is only available in China. There are plenty of Chinese military websites that are accessible outside the Mainland. And here’s a handy tip for the Pentagon: Dangdang.com alone has about 300 books on Military Technology for sale online. And they ship internationally. You can even buy Tactical Data Links in Information Warfare (信息化战争中的战术数据链), the book that inspired the Army War College paper by Larry Woertzel that inspired a completely irresponsible London Times piece about China’s “secret cyberarmy”. Since shipping is either 50% of item costs or a 50 RMB minimum, they’re even encouraging you to order bulk. Has nobody been doing this all this time?

If Gates is referring to research papers delivered at international conferences, though, I would think twice if I were an academic in China. They might think I’m carrying a copy to hand off to an “American intelligence operative” at Minerva.



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