The good news out of today’s annual US Defense Department report on China is that the People’s Liberation Army is partnering up on joint military exercises with the US as never before, including on some humanitarian missions.
The bad news is that despite this veneer of collegiality, China continues to engage in a massive, and often successful, effort to steal US military technology and know-how through sophisticated espionage and cyber-intrusion efforts, according to the DoD.
Some top targets: engines for aircraft and tanks, solid-state electronics and micro-processors, guidance and control systems, and “enabling technologies such as cutting-edge precision machine tools, advanced diagnostic and forensic equipment, and computer-assisted design, manufacturing and engineering.”
Here are a few more: “Advanced aviation and aerospace (hot section technologies [such as engines], avionics and flight controls), source code, traveling wave tubes, night vision devices, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, and information and cyber technologies.”
How China achieves this is less clear. Most likely, there is much more detail on that in the classified version of the 92-page report that is given to select members of Congress with the security clearances high enough to see it.
But the public version report drops some hints.
“The Chinese utilize a large, well-organized network to facilitate collection of sensitive information and export-controlled technology from US defense sources,” it says.
How? In part by creating innocuous-looking companies and research institutes that reach out to US companies, researchers and universities under the guise of civilian cooperation, only to steal their technology and experts for use by the PLA. It happens frequently at technology conferences and symposia, through legitimate contracts and joint commercial ventures, and partnerships with foreign firms and joint development of specific technologies.
“In the case of key national security technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials not readily obtainable through commercial means or academia, China has utilized its intelligence services and employed other illicit approaches that involve violations of US laws and export controls,” the report says.
Some examples, as cited by the report:
—In September 2012, Sixing Liu, aka “Steve Liu,” was convicted of violating the US Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and possessing stolen trade secrets. Liu, a Chinese citizen, returned to China with electronic files containing details on the performance and design of guidance systems for missiles, rockets, target locators, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Liu developed critical military technology for a US defense contractor and stole the documents to position himself for employment in China.
—In March 2012, Hui Sheng Shen and Huan Ling Chang, both from Taiwan, were charged with conspiracy to violate the US Arms Export Control Act after allegedly intending to acquire and pass sensitive US defense technology to China. The pair planned to photograph the technology, delete the images, bring the memory cards back to China, and have a Chinese contact recover the images.
China’s espionage activities aren’t surprising, according to US military strategy experts including David Tretler, a professor of strategy at the National War College and retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot. They’re “a necessity for them because our technology is better than theirs,” Tretler says.