- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Communist China's state-run news service has purchased a seven-story apartment building overlooking the Pentagon and will evict the residents to turn the 32-unit building into its Washington news bureau.
A notice to tenants said the Pentagon Ridge sale to Xinhua was completed June 15.
The building would give the Xinhua News Agency a significant news gathering presence in Washington.
Specialists in Chinese affairs expressed surprise yesterday that the U.S. government would allow it because Xinhua is directed by the People's Republic of China and is described by Western observers as a front for the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China's version of the Soviet KGB. The ministry conducts security operations at home and espionage abroad.
The specialists say Xinhua's high-ground location in the new building, near Interstate 395, could provide the opportunity to covertly monitor Pentagon comings and goings.
"This is shades of the Soviet grab for high ground in the '70s and '80s after we let them move into their new facilities on top of Georgetown," said Rick Fisher, a China authority with the Jamestown Foundation. "We soon discovered lasers and other listening devices for the new Soviet residents."
The Beijing government insists that Xinhua does not collect intelligence.
Jiang Liu, Xinhua's Washington bureau chief, hotly denied yesterday that his agency conducts spying.
"It's a smear," he said. "You have no evidence of that. You cannot say that," he said. "This is groundless. It's nonsense… . How can we spy on your Pentagon. I don't think your Pentagon is too vulnerable. Your Pentagon is very secure."
Tom Bellit, a tenant at Pentagon Ridge, said two real estate agents and a Xinhua official met with tenants Monday night. They told the renters that month-to-month tenants would have to leave soon, while those holding a lease could stay to the end or accept a buyout. Mr. Bellit said the Chinese offered a moving allowance.
"They were up front," he said. "They were approachable. But they were also direct in their intentions. They want the units open."
Mr. Bellit said that from his sixth-floor apartment he has a view of the Pentagon "E-ring," the outermost corridor where offices are located for senior Defense Department officials, including Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
Ying-Ying Li, a Weichert Realtors agent who attended the meeting, said Xinhua intends to use the building as living space and bureau headquarters.
"I don't want you to write this story," Ms. Ying-Ying said. "Relations between the two countries are very sensitive. I'm telling you to be cautious."
She said the Xinhua bureau is now located in an apartment building in Rosslyn that lacks central air conditioning. "It's really bad for people's health because they work long hours," she said.
Mr. Fisher a former staffer to Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, who led last year's congressional investigation that reported widespread Chinese espionage in this country said Xinhua has always been a candidate for espionage. "No Xinhua reporter has been bounced from the U.S. over an accusation of espionage," Mr. Fisher said.
"But it is highly accepted that as part of its broad mosaic method of espionage that Xinhua reporters or other workers, or even facilities, would be candidates for espionage missions by the [Beijing government]."
Mr. Fisher thinks it "significant" that three years ago the People's Republic of China moved its consulate from relatively low-lying Dupont Circle to a higher elevation in Georgetown, where electronic surveillance could be more effective.
China's extensive espionage against the United States including the theft of top-secret nuclear weapons designs has been documented by Mr. Cox's bipartisan report, public statements by FBI officials and several books.
In the book "Year of the Rat," authors Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II called Xinhua one of several "common fronts" for the Ministry of State Security. "For many years, the upper floors of the Xinhua building has been the MSS station in Hong Kong," they wrote.
Mr. Triplett said in an interview that with modern sophisticated, wireless listening devices, the Pentagon is vulnerable.
"They're spies," he said. "This is a techno-spy's paradise on earth to have complete control of your own building with a line of sight to the Pentagon. The idea the Chinese would allow us to have anything comparable is preposterous. This is a major security breach and it goes hand in glove with other security breaches."
Until Thursday, Xinhua's president was Guo Chaoren, a member of China's powerful Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party. Mr. Guo, who died of an undisclosed illness, oversaw 7,000 employees and bureaus in more than 100 countries. A Xinhua official declined to say who the new president would be.
Mr. Fisher, citing press dispatches and Chinese government documents, said Xinhua had sought to branch out in recent years. "For several years, Xinhua has tried to expand its business by expanding its international reporting and by trying to compete with other news services by trying to offer straight news as opposed to just the government line it offered for decades."
Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA intelligence officer and now a consultant on security, scoffs at doubts that the Chinese conduct spying operations here. He asks: "Is the pope a Catholic?"
"All state organs in China have been tasked by various intelligence agencies to carry out intelligence missions," he says. Everyone in the Chinese government plays a role in the government when they're asked, and that includes Xinhua."
Mr. Cannistraro says Beijing would likely use a front company if it wanted to attempt to intercept Pentagon communications. "But could that be used by Xinhua? Of course."

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