FBI surveillance video made public Sunday reveals details of a Chinese espionage operation to obtain secrets from the Pentagon through a group of Americans who spied for China.
The rare video footage was the high point of a multiyear investigation into Chinese espionage carried out by a ring of military intelligence agents operating from Guangzhou, China.
The tape, made public by CBS’ “60 Minutes,” was recorded in 2007 with two cameras hidden in a rental car during the investigation of Pentagon analyst Gregg W. Bergersen. The video reveals Bergersen pocketing a wad of about $2,000 in cash from Kuo Tai-shen, a Taiwanese-born spy for the People’s Republic of China.
“I’m very, very, very, very reticent to let you have it because it’s all classified,” Bergersen says to Kuo about classified reports he had in his possession. “But I will let you see it.”
Bergersen, who is serving a five-year prison term, then said, “You can take all the notes you want … but if it ever fell into the wrong hands, and I know it’s not going to, but if it ever … then I would be fired for sure. I’d go to jail, because I violated all the rules.”
Commenting on the video, former FBI agent John Slattery, who oversaw the Bergersen case, told CBS that “information has been passed prior and this is reward for that, or there is expectation that passage of information is forthcoming so that’s what’s happening here.”
According to court papers in the case, Kuo, a businessman who was based in Louisiana, took the information from Bergersen and provided it to another Chinese agent, Kang Yuxin, with details of Taiwan’s Po Sheng communications and defense system. Additionally, Bergersen provided Kuo with classified lists of planned U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan over the a five-year period.
Bergersen thought he was providing the classified information to Taiwan, through Kuo, when in fact the information went to China’s military intelligence service, known as the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, or 2PLA, according to court papers.
Bergersen was sentenced to five years in prison in July 2008. Kuo received a 15-year term in May 2008.
The Bergersen case grew out of an earlier spy case involving U.S. defense contractor Chi Mak, who was arrested in 2005 and later convicted of passing embargoed technology to China illegally and for failing to register as a foreign agent. He is serving a 24-year prison term. His brother, Tai Mak, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his role as a courier, and three other Mak family members also were convicted in the case.
The cases produced a rare glimpse into the secret world of Chinese military spying, which has scored major successes against the United States over the past decade.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, data compromised through Chinese spying included the theft of Aegis battle management technology, which is the heart of the U.S. Navy’s warships and which already has been copied in at least two Chinese warships.
Other losses attributed to Chinese military spies include secrets related to U.S. attack submarines, U.S. bombers and other aircraft and strategic missile and rocket technology.
In addition to the Mak and Bergersen cases, a third spy case involved former Rockwell International and Boeing Co. engineer Dongfan “Greg” Chung, who was convicted of supplying China with sensitive data on the space shuttle and military and civilian aircraft and helicopters. Chung was sentenced on Feb. 8 to 15 years in prison.
A fourth person involved in the spy ring was James W. Fondren, a former Air Force officer who was working for the U.S. Pacific Command. Fondren was sentenced on Jan. 22 to three years in prison for providing classified information on U.S.-China military relations to Kuo in exchange for money.
Prosecutors suspect that Kuo recruited Fondren and Bergersen.
The spy cases also revealed the identities of three Chinese officials who U.S. counterintelligence officials say are likely working for the 2PLA.
The main contact for the Mak case was Pu Pei Liang, a Chinese military official working for the Guangzhou-based Chinese Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at Zhongshan University, which U.S. officials have linked to the Chinese military.
Others included Lin Hong, a suspected military intelligence officer who met Fondren and Kuo in China during a 1999 visit. Mr. Lin also was linked to Bergersen.
Another official was identified as Guang Li, a suspected Chinese military intelligence officer linked to Kuo, Fondren and Bergersen.
Gu Weihao, a suspected Chinese military intelligence officer working for the Chinese Ministry of Aviation and China Aviation Industry Corp., was the contact in China for Chung.
Michelle Van Cleave, a former senior counterintelligence official, said recent spy cases involving China show that Beijing’s espionage activities are pervasive.
“We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in these technology theft and espionage cases,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “Even more troubling are the parts we do not see.”
Along with China’s economy and military, “their intelligence operations are growing too,” Ms. Van Cleave said.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in congressional testimony Feb. 3 that “during the past year, China’s intelligence services continue to expand and operate in and outside the United States.”
Former Chinese Ministry of State Security intelligence officer Li Fengzhi is quoted in the documentary as saying China’s main spying target is the United States.
The Chinese government routinely dismisses espionage convictions by China-related spies as based on “groundless” accusations against Beijing.
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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