In the wake of the arrest last week of a Chinese communist spy working as a police officer with the New York Police Department (NYPD), as well as serving in the U.S. Army Reserves, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the New York Post that China’s NYC consulate is being used as a major hub for its espionage efforts in the United States. Pompeo also hinted to expect more arrests soon.
Despite, or because of, the heightened tensions with the U.S., China is accelerating its spy recruitment efforts in America. The ‘insider threat’ from Chinese intelligence is only growing.
As I have repeatedly noted, China is running an unprecedented espionage effort that, according to counterintelligence sources at the FBI, dwarfs that of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This effort specifically targets ethnic Chinese living in the U.S., especially those with family or cultural ties to the communist Chinese mainland.
James M. Olson, former chief of counterintelligence with the CIA, told the Post that “Their spy program is massive,” and he “conservatively” estimated that China has more than 100 intelligence officers operating in the city. These case officers, or handlers, each may run numerous recruited agents, easily swelling China’s espionage network in the city to a thousand or more.
Olson added, “They aggressively mine social media and look for Chinese-Americans who have affection for Mother China,” such as NYPD Officer Baimadajie Angwang, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Tibetan descent.
Having family in China raises the risk of recruitment exponentially, “they will use that as leverage. Family members can be granted favors or not. It’s a rough game,” Olson said to The Post. “They figure out what kind of assistance you need, whether it be visas so you can see your family, scholarships, money.”
China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), will often use a person from the target’s previous life back in China to initiate contact, wining and dining the target, said H. Keith Melton, a historical consultant to the CIA and co-author of “Spy Sites of New York City,” in the Post. Melton adds, they “eventually ask him to do one gray thing for the good of China.”
And the clandestine relationship and treason only deepens from there.
“Police, military, counterintelligence are very big targets,” said Olson in the Post. Someone like Angwang would be particularly useful to Chinese intelligence since he “can get records, provide traces, find out who is under investigation.”
Olson, who is also the author of “To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence,” notes, “They would use him to find out what the NYPD is doing in terms of surveillance, the databases they have, what they are learning about China’s UN representatives and consulate officials.”
In that way, explains Olson, Angwang – who was also a former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant, and had a “secret” security clearance with the Army Reserve – was a potential “gold mine” for China.