Foreign spy agencies get ordinary citizens to pass on info

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-28 20:08:01

Photo: IC

The techniques used by foreign intelligence agencies to get Chinese citizens to provide them with national secrets have surfaced recently, after those arrested in espionage cases revealed their stories.

One trick running through these stories is that spies now often target ordinary people rather than those in high-ranking positions, while their primary methods of persuasion - cash and emotional manipulation - have remained much the same.

Retired soldiers, college students, teachers, military enthusiasts, and employees of companies and government bodies whose work relates to national defense are all common targets.

People who handle confidential information at work, such as scholars and experts involved in major scientific projects or working as consultants for senior decision-making bodies are also possible sources of leaks, especially those who do not use encryption to protect their confidential documents, the China National Radio (CNR) reported. 

Whoever steals, spies on, or unlawfully supplies State secrets or intelligence to overseas agencies may face punishments up to the death penalty, according to China's Criminal Law.

Cyber spooks

Over 70 percent of leaked information classified as national secrets was passed on via the internet, according to a survey from the Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in May 2014.

Military enthusiasts might unwittingly leak top secret information gathered from their friends or relatives working in crucial sectors by bragging about their knowledge online, with some hobbyists photographing military sites and posting the photos online simply to drive traffic to their pages, according to the CNR report.

Some agencies posted ads for part-time jobs with titles such as "information collector" on online forums, job-seeking websites or social media platforms, specifically targeting those who live close to companies related to national security or government offices, said the report.

Those with military backgrounds and former employees of companies that deal with sensitive data are especially targeted by these kinds of advertisements.

Foreign espionage agencies often start by asking people to do simple tasks such as taking photos of attractive scenery and collecting information in the public domain, and then escalate the assignments to include passing on confidential materials and increase the cash offered, according to media reports.

While others agree to the more dangerous tasks due to the money on offer, others are blackmailed into doing the job as the agencies threaten to reveal their previous work.

Money and revenge

Four employees of unnamed State-owned defense companies who were suspected of leaking sensitive information to overseas spy agencies were arrested by local public security officers in Sichuan Province in July, Chengdu-based West China City Daily reported.

The report said one of the suspects surnamed Wen was allegedly offered a part-time job collecting information for a monthly salary of 3,200 yuan ($512) and another person surnamed Wu, who had been working at a defense company for over 10 years, was allegedly offered 1.2 million yuan a year to share information.

Wen allegedly provided confidential information about his employer to the agency such as data on production levels and technical information about military equipment manufacture.

A school official surnamed Peng in Hunan Province received 60,000 yuan for passing on hundreds of journals which were only meant to be available to domestic higher education institutes and stealing confidential material from the State-owned companies, Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported.

Wang Guoxiang, an associate professor at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, previously told the Global Times that some people might be lured into this business by money, and some might leak secrets for other reasons, such as revenge for their unfulfilled political or economic aspirations.

Wang also reminded people to remove geographic and other sensitive information when taking photographs of military airports, warships and airplanes, as this information might be used by spy agencies.

"One might not realize they are committing a crime at the beginning, but one should realize when money is offered," said a police officer who requested anonymity.

Those who unwittingly leak sensitive information and haven't seriously jeopardized national security will not be held accountable if they make a full confession, according to China's Counter-espionage Law promulgated and enacted in November 2014.
Newspaper headline: Internet intrigue

Posted in: Military

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