Welcome to Saturday's Potluck
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Another installment of our summer spy stories series. One of my favorite fiction authors was Robert Ludlum. Stretched the mind of a teenager with travels around the world, complex conspiracy theories portraying history from a different vantage point than junior and high school history classes.
The current Chinese spy saga Operation Fox Hunt: How China Exports Repression Using a Network of Spies Hidden in Plain Sight is presented with all the intrigue of a good fictional story.
As part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, in 2015 China released this list of its 100 most wanted fugitives sought for economic crimes. The names on the list were targets of Operation Fox Hunt, a global fugitive-apprehension program launched in 2014, and a related program called Operation Sky Net. This photo spread appeared in the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, China Daily.
Chinese leaders defend their efforts to retrieve fugitives. The lack of an extradition treaty with the United States, they say, makes the country a refuge for runaway criminals. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson dismissed the allegations in the New York case as a “smear.”
“When conducting law enforcement cooperation with other countries, the Chinese law enforcement authorities strictly observe international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty, and guarantee the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects,” said the spokesperson, Wang Wenbin. “Their operations are beyond reproach. Driven by ulterior motives, the United States turns a blind eye to basic facts and smears Chinese efforts to repatriate corrupt fugitives and recover illegal proceeds.” (The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for further comment.)
ProPublica’s examination of the New Jersey case, the first prosecution involving a Fox Hunt operation, and of other clandestine Chinese missions in the United States, contradicts the official’s statement. For years, covert repatriation squads from China have tracked their targets in all manner of quintessentially American settings, from quiet housing tracts to suburban chain restaurants to immigrant business districts. Hu’s trail reveals the ambition of the effort. He is just one officer in one team from Wuhan, part of a swarm of teams from other provinces and Beijing that have been active in the United States.
Now, he put that life on hold and became a secret agent for the Chinese government, prosecutors said. From Wuhan, Hu laid out the mission. His new target, Xu Jin, had directed Wuhan’s development commission before he left for the United States in 2010 with his wife, Liu Fang, a former insurance company executive. Prosecutors had charged them with taking millions of dollars in bribes — crimes for which the maximum punishment is death.
The couple, now both 56, had gotten U.S. green cards through a program that grants residency to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in the United States. The California consultant who helped them apply later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, and investigators in that case alleged that the wife’s petition for residency contained false information. But they remain legal residents. (The couple declined to be interviewed.)
In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for U.S. assistance about the wanted couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted here. (Continued)
1985 the year Jonathan Pollard, U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was arrested for passing secrets to Israel Larry Wu-tai Chin a retired CIA translator/intelligence officer was arrested for passing secrets to the Peoples Republic of China.
I started covering Chinese espionage back in 1985 in what was dubbed the year of the spy. Over a remarkable period of months, US authorities arrested a former National Security Agency employee, two members of the US Navy, a civilian Navy analyst and a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Larry Wu-Tai Chin, the retired CIA analyst, was by far the most intriguing member of this rogues’ gallery. He labored in an obscure corner of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service agency, whose main job was to translate “open source” stories from foreign press outlets for use by the public and others in the government.
Chin was betrayed by a defector, and his backstory was a jaw-dropping example of how well China’s intelligence services played the long game. Born in Beijing, Chin was recruited by the Chinese government as a spy as a college student and began spying on the US during World War II, when he was hired as a translator by the US Army’s liaison office in China.
Spycraft jobs are also falling victim being replaced by robots. The smart phones we carry around everywhere can gather all sorts of information. The story of the month is an Israel product called Pegasus.
Once installed, Pegasus can read the user’s messages, e-mails, and call logs; it can capture screenshots, log pressed keys, and collect browser history and contacts. It exfiltrates – meaning sends files – back to its server. Basically, it can spy on every aspect of a target’s life. Encrypting e-mails or using encryption services such as Signal won’t deter Pegasus, which can read what an infected phone’s user reads or capture what they type.
Many people use iPhones in the belief that they are safer. The sad truth is that the iPhone is as vulnerable to Pegasus attacks as Android phones, though in different ways. It is easier to find out if an iPhone is infected, as it logs what the phone is doing. As the Android systems do not maintain such logs, Pegasus can hide its traces better.
Snowden’s answer of banning the sale of such spyware is not enough. We need instead to look at de-weaponizing all of cyberspace, including spyware. The spate of recent cyberattacks – estimated to be tens of thousands a day – is a risk to the cyber-infrastructure of all countries on which all their institutions depend.
After the leak of NSA and CIA cyberweapons, and now with NSO’s indiscriminate use of Pegasus, we should be asking whether nation-states can really be trusted to develop such weapons.
It is this concern that certain leading companies within the industry – Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and others – had raised in 2017, calling for a new digital Geneva Convention banning cyberweapons. Russia and China have also made similar demands in the past. It was rejected by the United States, who believed that it had a military advantage in cyberspace, which was something it should not squander.
The various articles published highlight different countries and
Mexico was NSO’s first overseas client in 2011, less than a year after the firm was founded in Israel’s Silicon Valley, in northern Tel Aviv.
Azerbaijan, a longtime ally of Israel, has been identified as an NSO client by Citizen Lab and others. The country is a family-run kleptocracy with no free elections, no impartial court system and no independent news media. The former Soviet territory has been ruled since the Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago by the Aliyev family, whose theft of the country’s wealth and money-laundering schemes abroad have resulted in foreign embargoes, international sanctions and criminal indictments.
The fear of widespread surveillance impedes the already difficult mechanics of civic activism.
“Sometimes, that fear is the point,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, who has researched Pegasus extensively. “The psychological hardship and the self-censorship it causes are key tools of modern-day dictators and authoritarians.”
Wednesday Open Thread by QMS has some great links including this video (4.54 min) on Pegasus)
Last weeks tips on garden pests have been helpful. Caught slugs in the beer bait trap by the hosta and corral bells, none by the cabbage. Cabbage looper is the culprit. Began laying soaker hoses Monday so the treatment was not washed off the plants daily by the hand watering.
Today a new issue. In thelast 4 days since I started laying the hose a California quail built a nest in the strawberry patch next to the cabbage.
It may be late in the season, but I am going to back off working in the area and let them try to hatch a brood. I can always buy cabbage.
What is on your mind today?