Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A senior FBI official will visit Beijing in November for talks with law-enforcement counterparts and military officials on a range of issues, including intellectual property theft and computer hacking.

“We have a number of mutual law-enforcement concerns, whether it be hackers, intellectual property [or] white-collar crime,” FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told reporters in a rare press briefing last week.

He said he had met that morning with Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang — the latest in a series of meetings he has had over the past year with senior Chinese officials since a trip to Beijing in April 2004.

Lou Riegel, head of the bureau’s cyber division, said the Chinese government had invited him and an aide to Beijing “to meet with their military, as well as their equivalent of the FBI,” referring to the Ministry of Public Security.

The November visit will be the first working-level trip by agents to the Chinese capital, an FBI official authorized to speak for the bureau said.

“Our aim is to utilize these opportunities to develop a working-level relationship,” the official said. “We want to know things like who handles [intellectual property rights] issues; what route should our legal attache [in the U.S. Embassy] use to get information to the correct Chinese agencies.”

“It’s baby steps,” Mr. Riegel said of the relationship. “We’ve had difficulty getting to this stage … but we’re slowly making headway.”

Mr. Riegel said the invitation came as a result of the Chinese’s concern about their image as a global center for copyright piracy.

“This invitation was extended because there’s an impression that China has [a monopoly] on intellectual property rights theft, and that’s not the case,” he said, adding that the country did, however, “have an issue with it.”

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, China is a global center for DVD piracy, and 95 percent of the video discs sold there are produced illegally. A recent analysis by the association of the costs of intellectual property theft in the Asia-Pacific region estimated the loss to be a half-billion dollars over the past three years.

Resisting any characterization of the relationship on cyber issues as “cooperation,” Mr. Riegel said: “Dialogue, that’s the stage were at, discussions.

“I don’t know if it will be successful,” he said. “It’s one step at a time.”

But on terrorism, the cooperation is much clearer, Mr. Mueller said.

At his press briefing last week, the director recalled a January incident in which intelligence reports indicated that four Chinese who illegally had crossed the Mexican border into the United States were headed to Boston to explode a radiological dispersion device, or “dirty bomb.”

Mr. Mueller said that the incident, while it turned out to be a false alarm, was a good test of the real-time intelligence sharing that the FBI had developed with the Chinese.

“We got the names [of the four] to our counterparts in China, and they put together a task force and very quickly got us information about who these individuals were and as to whether or not they would be involved in this kind of activity,” he said

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