Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Crippled U.S. Spying Operations
By MARK MAZZETTI, ADAM GOLDMAN, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MATT APUZZO May 22, 2017
MARK MAZZETTI, ADAM GOLDMAN, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO 2017年5月22日
WASHINGTON — The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.
Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.
But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.
Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.
Assessing the fallout from an exposed spy operation can be difficult, but the episode was considered particularly damaging. The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.
The previously unreported episode shows how successful the Chinese were in disrupting American spying efforts and stealing secrets years before a well-publicized breach in 2015 gave Beijing access to thousands of government personnel records, including intelligence contractors. The C.I.A. considers spying in China one of its top priorities, but the country’s extensive security apparatus makes it exceptionally hard for Western spy services to develop sources there.
At a time when the C.I.A. is trying to figure out how some of its most sensitive documents were leaked onto the internet two months ago by WikiLeaks, and the F.B.I. investigates possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, the unsettled nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services like those in Russia and China.
The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. both declined to comment.
Details about the investigation have been tightly held. Ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.
The first signs of trouble emerged in 2010. At the time, the quality of the C.I.A.’s information about the inner workings of the Chinese government was the best it had been for years, the result of recruiting sources deep inside the bureaucracy in Beijing, four former officials said. Some were Chinese nationals who the C.I.A. believed had become disillusioned with the Chinese government’s corruption.
But by the end of the year, the flow of information began to dry up. By early 2011, senior agency officers realized they had a problem: Assets in China, one of their most precious resources, were disappearing.
The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. opened a joint investigation run by top counterintelligence officials at both agencies. Working out of a secret office in Northern Virginia, they began analyzing every operation being run in Beijing. One former senior American official said the investigation had been code-named Honey Badger.
As more and more sources vanished, the operation took on increased urgency. Nearly every employee at the American Embassy was scrutinized, no matter how high ranking. Some investigators believed the Chinese had cracked the encrypted method that the C.I.A. used to communicate with its assets. Others suspected a traitor in the C.I.A., a theory that agency officials were at first reluctant to embrace — and that some in both agencies still do not believe.
The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the C.I.A.’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.
There was good reason to suspect an insider, some former officials say. Around that time, Chinese spies compromised National Security Agency surveillance in Taiwan — an island Beijing claims is part of China — by infiltrating Taiwanese intelligence, an American partner, according to two former officials. And the C.I.A. had discovered Chinese operatives in the agency’s hiring pipeline, according to officials and court documents.
But the C.I.A.’s top spy hunter, Mark Kelton, resisted the mole theory, at least initially, former officials say. Mr. Kelton had been close friends with Brian J. Kelley, a C.I.A. officer who in the 1990s was wrongly suspected by the F.B.I. of being a Russian spy. The real traitor, it turned out, was Mr. Hanssen. Mr. Kelton often mentioned Mr. Kelley’s mistreatment in meetings during the China episode, former colleagues say, and said he would not accuse someone without ironclad evidence.
前官员说，但是，在中情局负责抓间谍的马克·凯尔顿(Mark Kelton)不接受内奸理论，至少最初是那样。凯尔顿曾与布莱恩·J·凯利(Brian J. Kelley)是亲密的朋友，20世纪90年代，FBI曾错误地怀疑凯利是俄罗斯间谍。事实证明，真正的叛变者是汉森。凯尔顿以前的同事说，凯尔顿经常在调查中国事件的会上提到凯利遭受的不公正对待，并表示，在没有确凿证据之前，他不会对别人提出指控。
Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft at a time when the Chinese were becoming better at monitoring American espionage activities in the country. Some F.B.I. agents became convinced that C.I.A. handlers in Beijing too often traveled the same routes to the same meeting points, which would have helped China’s vast surveillance network identify the spies in its midst.
This carelessness, coupled with the possibility that the Chinese had hacked the covert communications channel, would explain many, if not all, of the disappearances and deaths, some former officials said. Some in the agency, particularly those who had helped build the spy network, resisted this theory and believed they had been caught in the middle of a turf war within the C.I.A.
Still, the Chinese picked off more and more of the agency’s spies, continuing through 2011 and into 2012. As investigators narrowed the list of suspects with access to the information, they started focusing on a Chinese-American who had left the C.I.A. shortly before the intelligence losses began. Some investigators believed he had become disgruntled and had begun spying for China. One official said the man had access to the identities of C.I.A. informants and fit all the indicators on a matrix used to identify espionage threats.
Officials said the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. lured the man back to the United States around 2012 with a ruse about a possible contract with the agency, an arrangement common among former officers. Agents questioned the man, asking why he had decided to stay in Asia, concerned that he possessed a number of secrets that would be valuable to the Chinese. It’s not clear whether agents confronted the man about whether he had spied for China.
The C.I.A. has tried to rebuild its network of spies in China, officials said, an expensive and time-consuming effort led at one time by the former chief of the East Asia Division. A former intelligence official said the former chief was particularly bitter because he had worked with the suspected mole and recruited some of the spies in China who were ultimately executed.
China has been particularly aggressive in its espionage in recent years, beyond the breach of the Office of Personnel Management records in 2015, American officials said. Last year, an F.B.I. employee pleaded guilty to acting as a Chinese agent for years, passing sensitive technology information to Beijing in exchange for cash, lavish hotel rooms during foreign travel and prostitutes.
美国官员说，中国近年来的间谍活动特别具有攻击性，不仅是2015年侵入美国政府人事管理办公室(Office of Personnel Management)系统的问题。去年，一名FBI雇员承认有罪，他曾为中国充当特工，向北京提供了敏感技术信息，以换取金钱，以及在外国旅行期间住豪华酒店房间和招妓女的待遇。
In March, prosecutors announced the arrest of a longtime State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, accused of lying to investigators about her contacts with Chinese officials. According to the criminal complaint against Ms. Claiborne, who pleaded not guilty, Chinese agents wired cash into her bank account and showered her with gifts that included an iPhone, a laptop and tuition at a Chinese fashion school. In addition, according to the complaint, she received a fully furnished apartment and a stipend.
今年3月，检察机关宣布逮捕了曾在美国国务院长期工作的坎迪斯·玛丽·克莱本(Candace Marie Claiborne)，她被指控在对她与中国官员接触的调查中，向调查人员撒谎。据对克莱本的刑事控告书，中国特工曾把现金汇入她的银行账户，并向她赠送了包括iPhone、笔记本电脑和一家中国时装学校学费在内的礼品，她不承认有罪。另据控告书说，她还得到了一套家具齐全的公寓和一份津贴。
China crippled CIA by killing US sources, says New York Times
21 May 2017
Image copyrightAFPImage captionChinese police guard the US embassy in the capital, Beijing
Up to 20 CIA informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government between 2010 and 2012, the New York Times reports, damaging US information-gathering in the country for years.
It is not clear whether the CIA was hacked or whether a mole helped the Chinese to identify the agents, officials told the paper.
They said one of the informants was shot in the courtyard of a government building as a warning to others.
The CIA did not comment on the report.
Four former CIA officials spoke to the paper, telling it that information from sources deep inside the Chinese government bureaucracy started to dry up in 2010. Informants began to disappear in early 2011.
The CIA and FBI teamed up to investigate the events in an operation one source said was codenamed Honey Badger.
Beijing offers hefty cash reward for tip-offs on foreign spies
China warns of "dangerous love" with spies
CIA operations could be disrupted by new Wikileaks release
The paper said this investigation had centred on one former CIA operative but there was not enough evidence to arrest him. He now lives in another Asian country.
In 2012, an official at China's security ministry was arrested on suspicion of spying for the US. He was said to have been lured into the CIA. No other such arrests appear to have reached public attention during that time.
Obama questioned slow intelligence
Matt Apuzzo, a New York Times journalist who worked on the story, told the BBC: "One of the really troubling things about this is that we still don't know what happened.
"There's a divide within the American government over whether there was a mole inside the CIA or whether this was a tradecraft problem, that the CIA agents got sloppy and got discovered, or whether the Chinese managed to hack communications."
A few years later in 2015, the CIA pulled staff out of the US embassy in Beijing, after a hack blamed on the Chinese state exposed information about millions of US federal employees. If the events of 2010-2012 were helped by a similar hack, it was not one that was made public.
The disappearance of so many spies damaged a network it had taken years to build up, the New York Times reports, and hampered operations for years afterwards, even prompting questions from within the Obama administration as to why intelligence had slowed.
Officials said it was one of the worst security breaches of recent years.
By 2013, the Chinese government seemed to have lost its ability to identify US agents and the CIA moved back to trying to rebuild its network.
Media captionLast year, China warned government officials to watch out for spies - and not fall in love with them
Mr Apuzzo continued: "For many years China and the US have been locked in this spy battle that's been going on behind the scenes. While doing this story we uncovered that Chinese intelligence have been able to infiltrate an NSA outpost in Taiwan. It goes back and forth."
The story was published during a temporary vacuum at the top of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The Trump administration has named Terry Branstad, who is the governor of Iowa, as its ambassador to China but he has not yet moved to Beijing.
Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the US, has not commented, but in a recent press release, he mentioned "the current positive momentum that the China-US relationship enjoys".
In January 2018, the F.B.I. arrested former C.I.A. officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee, charging him with unlawful possession of defense information. He may have compromised the identities of numerous CIA spies in China. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had worked for the CIA with a top-secret security clearance from 1994 until 2007. Several years after his departure from the CIA, China began capturing and killing U.S. informants. Officials in the U.S. began investigating whether a mole was responsible for outing the identities of sources working with the U.S. In May 2018, Lee was formally charged with conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of China. According to the indictment, he met two intelligence officers from China’s Ministry of State Security in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, in April 2010, and they gave him “a gift of $100,000 cash in exchange for his cooperation”, with the promise that “they would take care of him for life”. Lee received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash that he deposited into his HSBC bank accounts in Hong Kong between 2010 and 2013, the same time the CIA lost 18 to 20 Chinese informants who were killed or imprisoned for providing sensitive information to the U.S. government. Lee started working for a cigarette company in Hong Kong in 2007, the same year he left the CIA. In 2009, Japan Tobacco International terminated his contract amid suspicions that he was leaking sensitive information about its operations to Chinese authorities. He then set up his own company, also related to the import of cigarettes, which did not succeed. According to court papers, Lee’s business partner in Hong Kong arranged meetings and passed messages from Chinese intelligence officers to him. From June 2013 to September 2015, the former CIA agent worked for the cosmetics company Estée Lauder. At the time of his arrest, he was the head of security at the international auction house Christie’s in Hong Kong. He has pled guilty.