FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday that Chinese intelligence operations against the United States are a major problem and that the FBI is stepping up counterespionage efforts against them.
Mr. Mueller was asked during a House Judiciary Committee hearing about growing Chinese espionage activities.
There is substantial concern, Mr. Mueller said. China is stealing our secrets in an effort to leap ahead in terms of its military technology, but also the economic capability of China. It is a substantial threat that we are addressing in the sense of building our program to address this threat.
He declined to elaborate but said he would be willing to disclose more in a closed-door meeting.
The FBI and other counterintelligence agencies are hiring more agents and analysts who specialize in Chinese affairs to deal with the threat, U.S. officials said.
The FBI in San Francisco last month ran advertisements in three Chinese-language newspapers, asking for help from Chinese Americans to provide information about illicit activities, presumably by Chinese intelligence operatives.
Several recent Chinese spy cases highlight the problem of Beijing's spying, including the case of Los Angeles businesswoman Katrina Leung, a longtime informant for the FBI who was later accused of secretly working for China's intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security.
Another Chinese spy ring was recently highlighted by the case of Chinese-born defense contractor Chi Mak, who was convicted of passing embargoed U.S. defense technology to China. Several of his relatives also were linked to the compromise of U.S. Navy technology to China.
Noshir Gowadia, a Hawaii-based defense consultant, also was indicted last year on charges of selling classified B-2 bomber and other weapons technology to China. He also was charged with helping Chinese missile designers build a stealth cruise missile. He pleaded not guilty.
Joel Brenner, the director of national counterintelligence, said in an interview in March that China's theft of technology from the United States is a serious problem and that Beijing is eating our lunch in terms of compromised know-how.
Chinese spies are very aggressive in obtaining technology, often before it is fully developed by U.S. researchers, Mr. Brenner said.
Michelle Van Cleave, a former national counterintelligence executive, said in a recent defense report that Chinese spies are among the world's most effective and include civilian and military spies who have a global reach.
Recent Chinese espionage successes include design information on all of the most advanced U.S. nuclear weapons, U.S. missile design and guidance technology, electromagnetic weapons and space-launch capabilities, Miss Van Cleave stated.
China also succeeded in frustrating U.S. intelligence-gathering and counterintelligence against China through Leung, Mr. Brenner said.
China's government denies that it engaged in intelligence-gathering against the United States.