Selling Secrets to the Mainland: Military Espionage in Taiwan (part 2)

Tim Daiss
taiwan getty creative 300x225 Selling Secrets to the Mainland: Military Espionage in Taiwan (part 2)

(Getty Creative)

The question of why so many Taiwanese military officers would betray their country is a complicated one, as complicated as the six-decade plus relationship between China and Taiwan itself.

Professor Fitsanakis told me that as relations between China and Taiwan warmed in the last 10-15 years, more interaction has taken place. As this plays out, he said, it’s easier for China to find disgruntled employees to influence. In addition, China now has vast amounts of foreign currency at its disposal and finds it increasingly easy to use bribery.

A long-time Chinese watcher based in Taiwan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that it was partly Taiwan’s fault.

“They [Taiwan] takes a military officer and basically sticks him in a concrete room or office with low pay and expects him to serve like that for years. It breads discontent, even anger,” he said.

He added that the spying problem in Taiwan is worse than what the media reports and that there are taxi-drivers, teachers and people across all stratum of society that are either gathering information for China or are open to the idea.

If so, it’s a chilling disclosure. The extent of the fall-out from these security breaches in Taiwan’s military apparatus depends on who you ask. Not surprisingly, the Taiwanese military negates the extent of the damage.

However, others disagree. Commenting on the General Lo case, J. Michael Cole, a former intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and deputy news editor at the Taipei Times wrote in October that it was hard to contain the damage, “especially as doubts remained over how much access he [Lo] had to the nation’s Command, Control, Communications, Computer Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, which Taiwan has been modernizing with US assistance for well over a decade.”

Fitsanakis said that recent military secret leaks in Taiwan, while significant in the short term, are not catastrophic.

“The major casualty of this is the relationship of trust between Taiwan and the US,” he said. “Many in Washington are increasingly hesitant to supply Taiwan with sensitive military technology because they fear penetration by the Chinese.”

Fitsanakis added that while nobody in the State Department would admit it publicaly, it’s subverting US-Taiwanese relations. Yet, to understand the problem that Taiwan is facing, more background information is needed on how China’s spy network began and how it operates. China’s main intelligence gathering agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), is the world’s most secret agency according to experts and engages in military intelligence and counterintelligence operations.

According to, the organizational structure of the MSS reflects the structure of the Russian KGB.

“In terms of personnel, the MSS favors non-professional intelligence agents such as travelers, businessmen, and academics with a special emphasis on the overseas Chinese students and high-tech Chinese professionals working abroad with access to sensitive technological material,” GlobalSecurity states.

Fitsanakis said that the MSS is not as technologically advanced as other intelligence gathering agencies but makes up for it in sheer size. For example, he said that reports indicated that the MSS has around 40,000 agents operating in Germany alone.

As a comparison, though the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) states that neither the number of its employees nor the size of the agency’s budget can be publicly disclosed, the CIA has around 60,000 agents in its ranks according to some analysts.

Going after Mei Guo

All of this beckons the question, if Sino-Taiwanese relations are improving, then why the increase in Chinese spying activity? The answer is simple: America (Mei Guo).

“China has been increasingly aggressive since the early 1990s in recruiting Taiwanese to spy,” Fitsanakis said. “Notably the need to spy on US military systems (early warning systems, missile systems) which are easier to access in Taiwan than in the US.” According to Fitsanakis both have been compromised in recent years.

He added that this would not change in the foreseeable future because weapons systems are the most coveted intel of any country. Beijing has also intensified its spying activities in recent years to confront what is sees as US encirclement in the Asia Pacific region as well as a safeguard to secure energy routes through the East China and South China Seas.

Though China is tightening the noose around Taiwan’s military, the island nation is not passive. Taiwan is also spying on its giant neighbor. Taiwan has a national security bureau and MIB (Military Intelligence Bureau) and has also been active in the last 10 years.

Fitsanakis said that Taiwan is also collecting intelligence inside China as well as using counter-intelligence tricks and what he called “dangles.” In other words, Taiwan sets up a seemingly perfect situation to trick China into recruiting a Taiwanese national, with the sole intent of passing on false intelligence.

Often Taiwanese business professionals with business interests in the mainland are recruited for this type of counter-intelligence work, according to Fitsanakis. Admittedly, it is impossible for Taiwan to match the size of China’s spy network. Twenty-four million verses 1.3 billion pus doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

How all of this will unfold as China and Taiwan continue to forge relations in the near future is anybody’s guess. However, what is not guesswork is the gravity of the matter – whether or not Taiwan can stop the passing of intelligence to the mainland may well dictate its future survival as an independent state.

Tagged in: , , , ,
  • warbyothermeans

    what a load of crap you are spouting tonight, the only bully in the world of geopolitics is the US and the UK is its lapdog without any hint of shame for being one. take pride in being a subject of a lapdog nation. its fitting that a subservient state should have such ignorant subjects who loyally defends its masters in washington.

  • Pescadorean

    Absolut nonsense, again. You know nothing of Taiwan otherwise you might happen to notice that i) all the local opinion polls repeatedly show an overwhelming majority in favour of maintaining the status quo, and ii) more importantly, we recently VOTED for the party which had the most unequivocal pro-status quo policy. You ask where I’ve been for the last 20 years – Taiwan – which is obviously where you have not been for the last 20.

    I’m no particular fan of Uncle Sam, but their cross straits policy has kept the peace for the last 60-odd years years, yet you see them as “incapable of leaving others alone” – well I can tell you if they had left us alone a very bloody war with China would have been fought with a huge loss of life – so I find your armchair policymaking actually quite offensive, since you are advocating a policy which would in the death of my countrymen. 

    You just love portraying the US as the great Satan, so you’ve latched onto a subject you nothing about, and you’re just trying to twist the facts to suit your theory. Which is very disingenuous of you.

  • Pescadorean

    True – but lets not forget that the “distinction between the former Nationalist Chinese who fled mainland China ..and the native islanders” – while a valid distinction in the context you mention – but that the so called “native islanders’ (often referred to as ‘Taiwanese’) had only been on the island for 200 odd years or so, having also originated from Fujian Province in China. Which is why the small minority of aboriginals of Polynesian descent sometimes call themselves the ‘true Taiwanese’.

  • Pescadorean

    Not really. The last general election had a strong pro-status quo platform. You may be referring to the DPP era, when Chen Shui Bian came to power in 2000. But note that he had to drop his pro-independence stance in order to appeal to the middle ground – the pro-status quo majority. Perceptions of separatism is also on of the main reasons the DPP cannot get back into power.

  • plumplum

    I hope you “interact ” more efficiently than you read….
    Where did I say “reunion” or “a union” I wrote “some union”. As in “a degree of” which is the logical and sane thing to do, given history and geography and putting important and urgent US needs aside for a while. There is a quantitative and qualitative difference. Not hat it is your business and contrary to your arrogant assertion that I know nothing of Taiwan (Idiot thing to type), I have been there 3 times with my friends and my partner. Not as much as a man of the world such as you, but hey, I did talk to people and that was their stated opinion.
    If you talk to vested interests or those “informing” the public, those with a personal agenda, odds are you WILL get a different story. I spoke to mere ordinary Taiwanese.

  • plumplum

    You can take your “offended status” and put it where you like…
    I will refrain, on grounds of good taste from offering advice on that.
    I reserve the right to have my opinion of US government policy due to a fairly good understanding of motives and behaviour over the last, oh, 200 years.

    ” ..their cross straits policy has kept the peace for the last 60-odd years years,..” Maybe… It may also have hinder meaningful talks but keeping hostilities up and of course, costing.

    If you read my post you would have picked this up..”..Most of the Taiwanese I know DO want “some union” with Mainland China..”
    This is a true statement. The reasons for THEIR opinions are theirs and some of them are from the services, actually.
    Your opinions are yours and you are entitled to them, but I really think you are kidding yourself IF you really think the US cares for Taiwan anymore than it cares for any other state puppets and pawns.

    You should know as well as I how “public opinion” can be so easily manipulated so don’t rely on that. Open your eyes and look at what is going on. Stop kidding yourself they give a jot about you and yours.

    Hey, I know. Ask the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, the Afghans, the Iraqis, (etc etc) about the many manifest benefits of benign US protection.

    What do you do in Taiwan, work for a US “firm”?

  • andao

    That’s completely untrue. They do public opinion polling on this all the time, and the percentage that wants reunification never gets above 15%.

    Given the way that Hong Kongers are very rapidly falling out of love with the mainland, it is hard to see why in the world Taiwan would want to be a part of that mess.

    I’ve never met a Taiwanese who looks at China like a “brother or sister”. Just like how many Singaporean Chinese and HKers are very anti-PRC, despite being “brothers and sisters”. It’s not realistic to look at the world in terms of race.

  • plumplum

    My earlier reasoned response to this was deleted for some reason.
    In essence, the US see Taiwan as no more than “an Aircraft carrier” off China… I think that says it all.

  • OK-la

    Same old fallacy, new post. You made it two sentances without making the same logical error I accused you of last time.

    US bad =/= China good

    I’m not even american dude, I live in Hong Kong go tell that to Nixon and you might have a point. Jesus.

Most viewed



Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter