Reviewed by Richard Desjardins
For several years, US and Canadian intelligence agencies have reported aggressive Chinese intelligence activities taking place on the North American continent. According to these reports, China has focused heavily upon acquiring Western technology as part of its larger focus on economic development. If it is no longer surprising to hear about these efforts, we should remember that it was not always so. If China is fast becoming the new strategic adversary, the Soviet Union held that position for nearly fifty years.
When the story of Larry Chin was first reported in the press in the early-1980s, it shed light on a Chinese ‘import’ with which the public was not familiar: Chinese espionage in the West. It was only a decade earlier that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had been recognized by Canada (1970) and the United States as the legitimate government of China. In large part because of its conscious policy of turning inward, China was largely an unknown entity to the rest of the world. In fact, much knowledge about China was based upon sketchy reports from refugees.
Tod Hoffman has made an important contribution to a subject that remains shrouded in secrecy and rumours. If China has made significant progress in ‘opening a window’ on its military, the domain of intelligence remains largely closed. Mr. Hoffman is providing us with a limited but very much needed account of Chinese intelligence practices.
Earlier accounts of Chinese intelligence activities took the form of ‘spy stories.’ French journalists Roger Faligot and Rémi Kauffer provided such a narrative in their biography of Chinese spy chief Kang Sheng. Another biography of Kang Sheng appeared shortly thereafter, purportedly based upon privileged access to Chinese government documents, thus lending this account greater credibility. However, these books failed to extract a textbook version of Chinese intelligence practices. Those interested had to wait until 1994, when Nicholas Eftimiades, a former CIA analyst, published what remains the only manual providing a description of China’s intelligence structure, including a description of its various agencies and their functions.
Most recently, various US agencies have begun paying closer attention to Chinese intelligence operations in the United States. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an agency established to explore all aspects of US-China relations, has revealed, in a recent annual report, extensive Chinese interest in American technology. Chinese intelligence has apparently been at the forefront of this effort. Reports of theft of US military technology have generally been fewer, and far between. During the Clinton Administration, there was the infamous case involving a native Taiwanese, scientist Wen Ho Lee, who had been suspected of providing nuclear technology secrets with respect to US missiles to the PRC. Lee, a US citizen, worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory. There is no doubt that the Chinese would be interested in acquiring American military technology. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is in the midst of a major transformation designed to bring it into the 21st Century.
Larry Chin’s story belongs to another era – that of the Cold War. Born in China in 1922, and educated in elite schools, Chin was not a natural supporter of the Chinese Communists. His interest appears to have had more nationalistic inclinations. He was drawn to assist the PRC as early as the Korean War (1950-1953), when he worked for the State Department and subsequently for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), an agency closely linked to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and involved in the translation of foreign press reports, which included radio broadcasts.
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