Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Chinese intelligence-gathering ring in Los Angeles provided Beijing’s military with details of a new small U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle, along with some of the U.S. military’s most advanced high-technology weapons data, according to Bush administration officials close to the case.

Officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the purported spy ring headed by Chi Mak, an electrical engineer at a U.S. defense contractor, supplied China with details of the Dragon Eye drone.

The Dragon Eye is a small remote-controlled aircraft that provides real-time video. It is small enough to be carried in a backpack and is currently in use by U.S. Marines and other military forces in Iraq.

Additionally, documents obtained from Mr. Mak’s home in Downey, Calif., show that China obtained valuable intelligence that will allow Beijing’s military to attack U.S. warships electronically, the officials said.

One document that investigators think was passed to the Chinese military was a listing of the electronic vulnerabilities of a U.S. warship. Knowing the vulnerabilities will help China’s military, which is in the midst of a major buildup, to conduct electronic attacks on U.S. ships and knock out Global Positioning System guidance systems, the officials said.

The document was among thousands of pages of sensitive but unclassified documents found at Mr. Mak’s residence.

A preliminary review of the compromises indicates that the Chinese have learned extremely valuable details about U.S. weapons systems, from submarines to aircraft carriers, that could give China’s military a strategic advantage in a conflict, the officials said.

The documents reviewed in the case so far show that they were restricted from export and considered sensitive but unclassified military information. Mr. Mak obtained the information while he was employed at defense contractor Power Paragon, which was involved in more than 200 Navy contracts.

Mr. Mak; his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu; and Mr. Mak’s brother, Tai Mak, were indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Mr. Mak and his wife are naturalized Americans from China, and Tai Mak, an engineer with the Hong Kong-based Phoenix television, is a Chinese national.

The trio was charged with failing to register as agents of the Chinese government. If convicted, they could each face up to 10 years in prison.

The fact that Mr. Mak, his wife and his brother were not charged with espionage is an indication that the case involves sensitive technology transfers, but so far appears to be less than espionage, which is a more difficult charge to prove in court.

Still, the officials said a preliminary review of the case has revealed that it is one of the most damaging cases since the John A. Walker Jr. spy ring was busted in 1985. Walker’s spy ring included family and friends who supplied Navy codes to the Soviet Union for two decades.

The three suspects were arrested Oct. 28 as Tai Mak and his wife were waiting in the security line at Los Angeles International Airport. Tai Mak’s wife was not charged in the indictment Tuesday.

According to law enforcement sources, a Chinese national was arrested at the airport as he videotaped the arrest of Tai Mak and his wife. The man later was found to be an official with the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Beijing’s civilian intelligence service, and was released.

According to an FBI affidavit in the case, the spy ring would take the weapons data from Mr. Mak’s workplace and then transform it into coded data that was placed on computer disks and hand-carried to China.

At the time of the arrest, the group was transferring sensitive U.S. Navy technology known as Quiet Electric Drive, which is used on warships. The FBI described the technology as part of “an extremely sensitive project.”

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