Selling secrets to the mainland: Military espionage in Taiwan (part 1)

Tim Daiss
taiwan 300x225 Selling secrets to the mainland: Military espionage in Taiwan (part 1)

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Cross-Taiwan Strait relations between China and Taiwan have thawed in recent years. China, who until the late 1970s was firing artillery shells toward the island nation, has supposedly taken a softer approach to what it considers a renegade or breakaway Chinese province.

Added to this uptick in recent bilateral relations is current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou administration’s pro-China stance. However, beneath the surface the Sino-Taiwanese dynamic is more complicated than ever. Beijing, who still has not renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, is malevolent. The Middle Kingdom has stepped up its espionage efforts in Taiwan, to such an extent that Taiwan’s military defensive capabilities have been compromised and Taiwan’s relations with the US, the supplier of these defense systems, has been damaged.

Just in the last year, events have unfolded, rocking this island nation of nearly 24 million and throwing its military back on its heels. In March 2012, a Taiwanese captain who worked at a regional operations center north of Taipei was detained on suspicion that he gave intelligence to China. He had assistance from an uncle that ran a business on the mainland. Taiwan’s early-warning radar systems were compromised, the country’s air-defence command and control systems and also surveillance aircraft.

On January 4, a retired Taiwanese naval officer, Chian Ching-kuo was indicted for spying for China. Chian had served as chief of the missile section on a naval warship before retiring in 2009. He was accused of passing secret intelligence to China about Taiwan’s 2011 plan to send warships to Somalia to protect Taiwanese fishing boats from pirate attacks. However, the Taiwanese plan was aborted due to political concerns.

On February 5, according to the Taipei Times, Taiwan’s High Court sentenced retired air force Lieutenant Colonel Yuan Hsiao-feng to 12 life sentences for passing classified military information to China over a period of six years. And, last October, Chang Chih-hsin, a former chief officer in charge of the political warfare division at the Naval Meteorological and Oceanography (METOC) office, and two other Taiwanese military officers were arrested on suspicion of espionage. Chang reportedly leaked classified submarine nautical charts and information about waters around Taiwan.

The Chang case could turn out to be one of the biggest spy busts in Taiwan since 2011 when Taiwanese Army Major General Lo Hsien-Che was lured into spying for China during his time in Taiwan’s representative office in Thailand. The general was caught in what Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) called a “honey trap.” In other words, Lo gave up secrets for cash and sex.

Methods and modes

In an interview with me Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, coordinator of the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King College in the US said that Lo got involved with a young Chinese woman that had an Australian passport.

Fitsanakis who teaches classes on espionage, intelligence, international terrorism, and covert actions, said this was a textbook example of China using real-life spies and sexual entrapment (one of the top methods used by Chinese spies) to gather intelligence.

Lo was sentenced to life in prison and bas been incarcerated since July 2011, however the Chang case is still playing out.

The Chang case intensifies

On February 4, news broke that a Taiwanese rear-admiral was questioned by military prosecutors in connection with an investigation into alleged leaks in the Chang investigation. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) did not disclose the admiral’s identity, however he is still on active duty and until this month served as commander of a fleet. Local media reports quoting military officials claim that the navy has reassigned another officer to take the rear admiral’s position.

Added to the fray is news that broke on February 15 that a Taiwanese army officer had been transferred after one of his relatives was also allegedly involved in the Chang case. This time it was Army Major Gen. Wu Chin-Chun, who originally headed the MND’s legislative liaison office and was an aide to Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu.

All of this brings up some poignant questions. What would motivate a career military officer to betray his country? How much damage has been caused by these recent security breaches? Since the US supplies much of Taiwanese military technology according to Fitsanakis, what fall out has these events had on US-Taiwanese relations? How does China’s spy network operate, why have they intensified its spy ring in Taiwan and what is Taiwan fighting back?

Read the second part of this feature tomorrow

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