Chen Yonglin saga sparks new focus on Chinese espionage

It’s not really surprising that Chen’s alarming assertion that there were more than 1,000 Chinese spies in Australia has helped to ignite worldwide concern over China’s espionage capabilities and techniques. This article taks a look at how Chinese intelligence compares to that of other countries, and how Chen Yonglin has generated fresh interest in the subject.

Like those of most countries, China’s intelligence efforts employ a system of concentric circles, analysts said. Unlike U.S. intelligence agencies, with their reliance on satellite data and high technology, China is known for its “humint,” or human intelligence.

“They can and do send out thousands of people with limited tasking, flooding the target country,” said retired Col. Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. Army attachรฉ in Beijing now at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

China has three kinds of spies, asylum-seeker Hao told Australian reporters: “professional spies” paid to collect information; “working relationship” spies operating in business circles; and “friends” in less-formal networks, a category analysts said Chen’s 1,000 spies would fall into.

China employs a relatively small number of well-trained, professional spies, intelligence analysts said, charged with digging up the most-sensitive military secrets and strategic policy.

In the second tier, China relies on well-placed front companies and scientists to go after key technologies, including dual military and civilian-use products that are easier to acquire than top-secret military items. “But you use dual-use or trading companies as far from the embassy as possible,” said an intelligence expert who declined to be identified. “They’re a big radioactive tag.”

In one recent case, a Chinese-American couple in Wisconsin was arrested on suspicion of selling China $500,000 worth of computer parts with potential applications in enhanced missile systems.

But it’s China’s biggest concentric ring that often garners the most attention. Beijing is known for gathering small bits of information from “friends” โ€” Chinese businesspeople, students, scientists, trade delegations and tourists traveling overseas โ€” which it assembles into a bigger picture.

“They spread a rather wide net,” said James Lilley, a former CIA station chief and U.S. ambassador to China. “It’s often a rather blurred line between ‘cooperator’ and ‘undercover agent.'”

The article also quotes analysts who say one reason Australia wasn’t that interested in Chen as an intelligence resource was his focus on the Falun Gong. If he’d been involved in nuclear intelligence or something else of immediate and crucial concern to Australia’s national security, they would probably have offered him a visa right away and started picking his brain. But his assignment of watching the wheelers made him less than a prize catch for Australia’s intelligence community.

Thanks to Gordon for emailing me this link.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

You could substitute the word “Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, or Israel” or any other nation, in that article and be entirely correct. Nation’s don’t have friends, they have interests. And gathering information on their friends, as well as their opponents (Chen’s case), is in their interest. It’s not a question of “everybody does it”. It’s more a question of “everybody needs to do it.”

July 17, 2005 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

True enough, but the article does draw some distinctions between China’s approach to espionage and that of other countries.

July 17, 2005 @ 6:07 pm | Comment

We have been spying on China for years. We have found NOTHING that we didn’t already know 200 years ago. We have developed a fondness for Chinese girls and Chinese food. That is all.

July 17, 2005 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

I also found the details of “three kinds of CHinese spies” hilarious; I thought, any smart espinage organizations would have the same 3 kinds, if not more. But oh, oops, the Chinese 3-kinds are the most cunning and forboding. That’s why not even Chinese Americans could ever be trusted as the other ethinic Americans; (C’mon, hush, hush, they are ALL CHINESE!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

July 17, 2005 @ 10:30 pm | Comment


You shit! Chen shit! I hope he die! FLG shit! Your blog shit! Australia shit! Taiwan shit! No spies from China. China all good. West shit! Did you ever go to China. You did not. If you did go you see no shit in China.

May Antonia Jones-Wong

July 17, 2005 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

She’s Pissed!

July 17, 2005 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

haha, looks like you joined the shit club. according to mei or ni or whoever, i am supposedly the founding member of this elite club.

July 17, 2005 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

Kev’s our leader.

July 17, 2005 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

The Chinese are only spying in Australia to find out how they stopped people from walking in the middle of the highway.I’m sure it’s not any more ominous than that.

July 17, 2005 @ 11:31 pm | Comment


You ever go to Chinese toilet? Next time you look down in hole. That’s you. Big shit!


We have 5,000 glorious years of walking down middle of highway. You pitiful frightened Western barbarian imperialist running dogs are afraid to venture off the sidewalks like brave Socialists with Chinese characteristics. In 5000 more years, maybe then you dare walk in highway, but by then all your cities be gone under Chinese mushroom clouds. No more highways to walk on. Ha Ha.

May Antonia Jones-Chaing

July 18, 2005 @ 12:03 am | Comment

Oh, May, that is quite a comment. Thanks to the magic of the IP address, I know who it’s really from – and my lips are forever sealed! ๐Ÿ™‚

July 18, 2005 @ 12:07 am | Comment

May, If that is indeedy your real name, what’s with the hatin’? As a young American Man, my father and I would often stroll in the middle of I- 95. He was, unfortunately, killed by a toaster oven in the bathtub. He enjoyed making meatloaves whilste bathing. We aren’t all that different. We have more similarities than differences.

July 18, 2005 @ 12:17 am | Comment

“That’s you. Big shit!”
damn May Antonia Jones-Chaing, i spat water all over my computer screen from laughing so hard at that one

July 18, 2005 @ 12:42 am | Comment

Conrad already gave the game away. Just look up the thread to May’s 1st post. You know full disclosure. After MAJ and his multiple personalities, it doesn’t seem anyone wants to cross that line again.

July 18, 2005 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Richard, true enough on the various means of gathering information, but the nations I mentioned by name lean heavily on recruitment of their ethnic cousins, particularly those born in the home country, and more particularly with those who still have family there. The shared language and cultural heritage makes it easier for the case officer to make his (or her) pitch. Plus, in the case of those will close relatives in the home country, there is always the “we can make it easier or harder for them – your choice” line if the soft approach fails. All that said, note that the really big spies caught in the U.S. have involved native born Americans.

July 18, 2005 @ 2:08 am | Comment


You think you big shit spy trying to find out who I am. But you nothing spy compared to glorious People’s Security Service who already know who you are and be waiting at China Immigration to cavity search Richard when he come back to China. Oh yes, I bet you think you big funny funny spy then, you shit.

Mei Antonia Chung

July 18, 2005 @ 3:37 am | Comment


What you doing spitting, you big-nose devil? Spitting vital part of Chinese culture for 5000 glorious years. You trying to steal Chinese culture you barbarian. Only Chinese people allowed to spit, you shit.

Mei Antonia Ng

July 18, 2005 @ 3:38 am | Comment

Mei, Kevin was doing a little “cultural Borrowing” It’s not stealing. Everyone knows that the Chinese invented spitting. He doesn’t deny that.

July 18, 2005 @ 3:58 am | Comment

Why that comment to Kevin sounds like MAJ. He has it in for some regulars on this blog.

July 18, 2005 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

Let’s all love each other.

Nations spy because they want to love you better.

It’s flattery really, I would love it if someone came and spied on me.

August 9, 2005 @ 2:55 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.