- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2011

A newly released State Department cable reveals Chinese intelligence-gathering efforts in Chile and U.S. concerns that Beijing’s growing ties to the Chilean military will compromise U.S. defense secrets shared with the South American nation’s armed forces.

“Sources have told the [U.S.] Embassy [in Santiago] that Chile’s close military ties with the United States are of great interest to the Chinese,” said the Aug. 29, 2005, cable, labeled “secret.”

“There is concern that the Chinese could be using Chilean officers and access to the Army training school to learn more about joint programs, priorities and techniques that the Chileans have developed with their U.S. counterparts.”

The cable said U.S. officials based in Chile worked with their Chilean counterparts to “sensitize them to the security and intelligence threats emanating from China.”

The cable, which was released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, is a rare disclosure of U.S. government concerns about Chinese intelligence-gathering, a problem highlighted by numerous U.S. espionage-related cases and technology-theft prosecutions over the past five years.

The cable said Chinese intelligence and security organizations will step up spying in the key South American state as its business interests grow.

A key worry is that as a result of closer U.S. military cooperation with the Chilean military, “Chinese interest in [U.S. government] activities in the Southern Cone will most assuredly increase,” said the cable.

“The Chinese will likely attempt to learn more about U.S. military strategies and techniques via Chilean participation in bilateral training programs and joint exercises.”

Emilia Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Chilean Embassy in Washington, had no immediate comment.

Jamie Smith, a spokeswoman for Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, declined to comment. A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

Mr. Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10 that counterintelligence against foreign spying threats is “another area of great concern to me.”

“We face a wide range of foreign intelligence threats to our economic, political and military interests at home and abroad,” he said.

A recent report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was more specific. It quoted U.S. counterintelligence officials as saying Chinese spying is “growing in scale, intensity and sophistication.”

“The Counterintelligence Community considers the People’s Republic of China to be one of the most aggressive countries targeting U.S. military, political and economic secrets, as well as sensitive U.S. trade secrets and technologies,” the report said, quoting a May 2009 statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “For a number of reasons, we believe China poses a significantly greater foreign intelligence threat today than it did during most of the Cold War era.”

The cable traced growing Chile-China military ties to the October 2004 visit to China by the Chilean army chief of staff, Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, now retired, who agreed then to set up a Mandarin-language training program for the Chilean military.

The first two Chinese instructors arrived in Santiago in January 2005 for the start of a two-year language study program with 10 Chilean army officers. The Chilean military officers then were to spend a third year in Beijing for language training.

The cable said Chile’s government for some time has considered the country “immune” from foreign spying threats.

“However, select Chilean government officials are starting to understand that national assets are largely unprotected,” the cable said. “They are unaware of the potentially harmful role the Chinese could begin to play in Chile.”

According to the cable, the Chinese Embassy in Santiago is one of the largest Beijing embassies in Latin America, with 22 staff members at the diplomatic post in Santiago.

“The diplomats are all good Spanish speakers and are active on the social circuit,” the cable said. “In addition, there are usually three Xinhua reporters assigned to Chile, and it is assumed that they are involved in some kind of collection activity. The number of Xinhua representatives in Chile surged to 12 during the APEC 2004 Leaders’ Summit in Santiago.”

Though it provides details about U.S. concerns with Chinese intelligence threats in Chile, the cable focuses on increased economic ties between China and Chile. It highlights China’s efforts to control international trade in copper and the mining resources needed to produce it.

Former State Department China-affairs specialist John Tkacik said China’s main focus on Chile in 2005 was not U.S. defense secrets, but “a single-minded, Politburo-directed effort to control global copper markets.”

“China’s interest in Chile has always concentrated on the country’s mining resources, and this cable reflects the beginning of Beijing’s strategy of straightforward mercantilism in Chile, centered on gaining equity interests in Chilean copper ore and nailing down long-term supply contracts,” he said. “The Chinese strategy has thus far proven to be immensely rewarding to China — Chinese traders have pushed global copper prices up to $9,000 a ton — three times the 2005 levels.”

Mr. Tkacik said China’s quest for U.S. military data through expanding military ties to Chile’s armed forces likely was a side benefit.

“The [People’s Liberation Army] is expanding ties with everyone in Latin America, and their strategic mil-mil partners are Cuba and Venezuela,” he said. “But they’ve offered very elaborate Chinese-language training courses to just about every military in Latin America that doesn’t recognize Taiwan.”

The cable concluded that “China’s increased commercial, educational and military ties could increase Chile’s vulnerability to covert Chinese activities, such as security and industrial espionage.

“While the Chileans are sophisticated about their trade relationships, they are still a bit naive about the company they will soon be keeping.”

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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