FBI Special Agent, 1973-1997
China is trying to build its military power. So, it benefits when it can basically steal the plans to weapon systems to improve their own weapon systems based on things they find out. They actually want to acquire weapons that other countries have. …
China still thinks of itself as a third world country in many respects. But they basically manufacture a great deal of what we use here. And that's their goal. They want to be the Japan of this era. They want to be able to dominate world manufacturing. So a lot of their espionage or a lot of their intelligence work is focused on that economic advantage that they might gain.
And there is very little distinction, even today, in China, between the government and its interests and Chinese businesses and their interests. There's a great deal of information sharing. And there is a great deal of collection that's based on making Chinese business competitive and, in fact, dominant in some of the areas where they want to be dominant. …
Speaking as someone on the inside who's seen this for a lot of years … have we been winning this game of chess, whatever it is, with the Chinese? Or are they playing a different game, or do they understand things we don't understand?
Well, I think it's very hard to say whether you win or lose. We're always talking about the current espionage case and trying to see these things through the light that that case sheds on a counterintelligence issue. And, frankly, that's not a very clear way to see the whole picture. However, I do think that to some extent we have lost the counterintelligence war against the Chinese intelligence services, partly because we haven't had major counterespionage successes.
There are really two ways you want to play this game. The first way is to know what the other people's intelligence service is doing. Who are their sources? And to either neutralize those sources, in some cases, arrest them. Or control the information that they're reporting back. You want to know more than the other side knows. Of course, it's very hard to know exactly what the other side knows.
The other aspect of it is to simply uphold the law, and to arrest people, particularly Americans who are stealing American secrets, classified American information, to put them in jail and to bring them to justice for committing espionage. I don't think we've done a good job in that particular respect with regard to the Chinese intelligence services. I think there are quite a few cases in which the Chinese have succeeded in collecting classified information from U.S. government sources and, for whatever reason, we haven't brought those people to justice and put them in jail.
So, on an absolute scale, if you would say, "Show me the numbers. How many times did you put a person in jail for this? I think it's an incontrovertible fact that we don't have many numbers. We didn't really do a very good job of putting those people in jail. …
[But are we] having some success in the China program?
I think the bottom line is that we've got limited success in the China program. It's a shame that more of the successes can't come out in public, and they shouldn't. But they are limited. They are limited in numbers.
I guess the thing I'm afraid of is, when you look at a nation that's that large, that has that large of a presence in the United States, and that has, basically, blood in its eye as far as modernization and military and market success, competitiveness, if you will, that the United States has never expended very many resources on the People's Republic of China. We've never thought it represented all that big of a threat. And as a consequence, we've never had quantitatively as much success as we have against other foreign intelligence services that were operating against the U.S.
So the recent statements by Mueller and others to say that China is foremost in the future,[and] that counterintelligence, counterespionage is now number two priority, what does that say?
It says that there's a recognition that this is important now. And, frankly, I think this has come over the last few years from success.
Not failure. Right. If you failed, then their secret services would be succeeding without you knowing. Once you realize what their secret services are doing, that's when they become a higher priority. That's when you beef up your operations. That's when you improve your operations.
And I think it's clear from my view of public statements, that in the last few years the U.S. has come to an increasing recognition of the potential danger posed by the intelligence services of China here in the U.S., and the necessity to do good counterintelligence operations whether or not the other side is committing espionage. I think you have to know what they're doing. You can't judge if what they're doing [is] threatening or not unless you know what they're doing. …
Are we playing a game of checkers, while they're playing a game of chess?
There are those that would say that because the Chinese are renowned for their thoughtful application of principles. And I'll give you a current example that's kind of scary to me. The Chinese command and the military have actually written books saying that the great equalizer is that the U.S. is so dependent on its computers that we can even the score by basically using the Internet against the United States. That it is the great equalizer in a conflict.
Obviously, we worry about nuclear weapons. But, I think we're in a new era now where we have a lot of other things to worry about. How many manufacturing jobs move to China? How is it that they can produce something identical to our products whether they be CDs and movies, or whether they be automobiles or aircraft. I think we have to decide, what is it we're going to do from a counterintelligence perspective to protect our economic interests, to protect our national security interests. And I think that we simply can't let them win this game this easily. They've been winning, at least in the public media. And I think we have to make sure that they don't win it. …
I think a foreign intelligence service working against the United States has a decided advantage. We have a free country. We think information is free. We don't restrict our citizens very much, even those with highly classified access. So, I think, we have to be very careful how we do this. But, I think, we have to be very good at penetrating that foreign intelligence service in order to find out who their agents are here. And, I think, we have to do a better job of security within our agencies, and within really business in America to protect the things that are essential to us, our intellectual property, our research and design and things like that. We're not good at that as a society. And that's what we have to improve.