The Atlantic

China’s Spies Are on the Offensive

China’s spies are waging an intensifying espionage offensive against the United States. Does America have what it takes to stop them?
Source: 360b / Shutterstock / Alexandria Sheriffs Office / Salt Lake County Sheriffs Office / The Atlantic

In early 2017, Kevin Mallory was struggling financially. After years of drawing a government salary as a member of the military and as a CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officer, he was behind on his mortgage and $230,000 in debt. Though he had, like many veteran intelligence officials, ventured into the private sector, where the pay can be considerably better, things still weren’t going well; his consulting business was floundering.

Then, prosecutors said, he received a message on LinkedIn, where he had more than 500 connections. It had come from a Chinese recruiter with whom Mallory had five mutual connections. The recruiter, according to the message, worked for a think tank in China, where Mallory, who spoke fluent Mandarin, had been based for part of his career. The think tank, the recruiter said, was interested in Mallory’s foreign-policy expertise. The LinkedIn message led to a phone call with a man who called himself Michael Yang. According to the FBI, the initial conversations that would lead Mallory down a path of betrayal were conducted in the bland language of professional courtesy. That February, according to a search warrant, Yang sent Mallory an email requesting “another short phone call with you to address several points.” Mallory replied, “So I can be prepared, will we be speaking via Skype or will you be calling my mobile device?”

Soon after, Mallory was on a plane to meet Yang in Shanghai. He would later tell the FBI he suspected that Yang was not a think-tank employee, but a Chinese intelligence officer, which apparently was okay by him. Mallory’s trip to China began an espionage relationship that saw him receive $25,000 over two months in exchange for handing over government secrets, the criminal complaint shows. The FBI eventually caught him with a digital memory card containing eight secret and top-secret documents that had details of a still-classified spying operation, according to NBC, which followed the case along with other major outlets. Mallory also had a special phone he’d received from Yang to send encrypted communications. Gone was the polite, careful language from their initial conversations. “Your object is to gain information,” Mallory told Yang in one of the texts on the device. “And my object is to be paid.” Mallory was charged under the Espionage Act with selling U.S. secrets to China and convicted by a jury last spring. Mallory’s attorneys alleged that he’d been trying to uncover Chinese spies, but a judge dismissed the idea that he was working as a double agent, a defense that other accused spies have tried to deploy. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May; his lawyers plan to appeal the conviction.

If Mallory’s story was unique, he’d just be a tragic example of a former intelligence officer gone astray. But in the past year, two other former U.S. intelligence officers pleaded guilty to espionage-related charges involving China. They are an alarming sign for the U.S. intelligence community, which sees China in the same tier as Russia as America’s top espionage threat.

, 59, is a former DIA officer fluent in both Mandarin and Russian, who had already received thousands of dollars from Chinese intelligence agents over several years by the time the FBI caught him last year, . Hansen gave the Chinese sensitive in its criminal complaint, export-controlled encryption software. He told the FBI that in early 2015, Chinese intelligence officers offered him $300,000 a year “in exchange for providing ‘consulting services,’” according to the complaint. He was caught when he began asking a DIA case officer to pass him information. Among his requests were classified documents about national defense and “United States military readiness in a particular region,” according to the Justice Department.

Stai leggendo un'anteprima, registrati per continuare a leggere.

Altro da The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min letti
The Man Who Did Not Sweat
In an effort to prove that he did not sexually assault a 17-year-old in the 1990s, Prince Andrew offered a bizarre medical explanation.
The Atlantic3 min letti
How The Mandalorian Can Work for Disney+
The Star Wars series, now two episodes in, is a good example of how the streaming service can mine smaller, solid stories out of massive franchises.
The Atlantic6 min lettiPolitics
What Does Rudy Giuliani’s Son Do?
Thirty-one-year-old Andrew Giuliani finds himself in a surprisingly comfortable corner of the White House—for now.