- The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed China to aggressively pursue Russian physicists.
- MICE (money, ideology, coercion, and ego) is the recruitment motto for spying purposes.
- To date, the US has caught 37 individuals spying for China.
China has been actively involved in espionage against Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the last century, China has not been known for many inventions in the space field, but instead as been a successful copycat. The route to copying patented and classified inventions leads to espionage. The facts prove themselves. Even though China has the highest numbers of STEM grads under President’s Xi politics, still China is not a leader in the field. Also, Chinese education focuses on being a great follower, but not a leader, since the communist model does not allow room for individualistic views.
During the Soviet era a lot of programs, especially in the nuclear weapons field, were successful due to Nazi German physicists. Nevertheless, the Soviet and US arms race was epic in the nuclear weapons and space fields.
The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed China to aggressively pursue Russian physicists to gain access to their classified space and nuclear programs. Russia and Ukraine became a hotbed for Chinese “tourists,” meaning Ministry of State security agents– the intelligence, security and a secret police agency of the People’s Republic of China, responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. It is headquartered in Beijing.
Since 1991, over 30 people have been convicted of treason and espionage on behalf of China. It is plausible to believe the current China’s space program was created based on the contribution of the classified technology obtained via espionage.
Russian scientists working at the TsNIIMash were arrested in 2005 on charges of embezzlement and the sale of state secrets to the All-China Precision Engineering Import-Export Company in 1996. Five scientists (Igor Reshetin, Sergei Vizir, Mikhail Ivanov, Sergei Tverdokhlebov, and Alexander Rozhkin) were accused of selling Russian military technology to Chinese spies.
- Igor Reshetin was sentenced to 11 and a half years, convicted of “arranging the illegal transfer to China of Russian space technology that can be used to carry weapons of mass destruction.”
- Sergei Vizir was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
- Alexander Rozhkin was sentenced to five years.
- Sergei Tverdokhlebov was released after he singed a confession and aided the investigation.
- Mikhail Ivanov was sentenced to five years.
In 2009, Russian nationals Evgenij Afanasev and Svetoslav Bobishev traveled with classified space technology documentation to China and passed the information to Chinese spies in exchange for hefty monetary compensation as per the FSB. The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) is the principal security agency of Russia and the main successor agency to the USSR’s KGB.
Both were employed by Baltic State Technical University “Voenmeh” as professors specializing in space technology, and were also visiting professors at China’s Harbin University of Science and Technology. Voenmeh D.F. Ustinov is a Russian technical university situated in Saint Petersburg. Previously it was known as the Leningrad Mechanical Institute and Military Mechanical Institute. Harbin University of Science and Technology (HrbUST) is the largest province-owned engineering university in Heilongjiang Province, located in the city of Harbin and was founded in the early 1950s.
One of the more recent espionage cases in Russia was the conviction of Vladimir Lapigin, who in 2017 passed classified information about a nuclear rocket engine to a Chinese agent. Lapigin was sentenced to seven years in a high security Russian prison. US prison sentences for treason usually carries a life sentence. At the time of the information passing, he was employed by TsNIIMash, a Russian rocket and spacecraft science center dealing with all phases of development from conceptual design to flight test. It specializes in the development of long range ballistic missiles, air defense missiles, and propulsion units for the defense industry. It was established in 1946. Interestingly, right after the information was passed China suddenly announced the creation of its own engine very similar to the Russian engine.
In July 2018, the FSB raided the offices of TsNIIMash and Roscosmos Research and Analytical Center and arrested ten employees suspected of passing classified Hypersonic Russian missile technologies. Roscosmos is a state corporation responsible for the wide range and types of space flights and cosmonauts programs for the Russian Federation. The arrested parties are all accused of the highest level of treason. A senior researcher suspected of treason, Sergey Meshcheryakov, was placed under house arrest this summer. In Russia, a treason sentence carries a prison term between 12 to 20 years.
Recruitment by Chinese spies utilizes a classic scheme:
1) Identify the target scientist.
2) Piece together a psychological profile of the target and their family.
3) Find weak points and gauge the person’s interests and needs (could be gambling debt, promiscuity, etc)
MICE (money, ideology, coercion, and ego) is the recruitment motto for spying purposes.
China remains a security threat for the world. Western intelligence agencies continue to warn against China’s infiltration to steal classified technology– Huawei technology being a real security threat. Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. is a Chinese multinational technology company that provides telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics, including smartphones and is headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong. The company was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei. This summer, Canadian University of Manitoba cut ties with Qiu Xiangguo, a noted Ebola researcher, after she was escorted from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. She is accused of a security breach in favor of China. Depending on the breach the information, it could be used for biological warfare by China.
There are 37 individuals that have been caught by US for spying on behalf of China, including passing classified information from NASA and military technology.
On November 26, Czech intelligence published a report about Chinese spying in their country and the associated threats. According to the report, China’s intel activities in Czechia focus on “finding and contacting potential collaborators and agents among Czech citizens.” Chinese intelligence is inviting Czech citizens employed in defense and physics fields for training, and to conferences in neutral countries to disguise the real purpose of spy recruitment from these invitations. Also cyber attacks by China have been occurring on specific targets.
One has to wonder why Russia continues to have a close relationship with China? From a geopolitical prospective, BRICS and trade is important. However, when it comes to Putin’s military and space ambitions, China is a foe and a threat who is stealing information and secrets. History tends to repeat itself and Russia and China have had a volatile relationship in the past. Russia may have to curtail their relationship with China eventually.
The China threat is real in technology and in other spheres. A lot of China’s advances are based on espionage. It is important to safeguard information and the US is on the right path by being cautious when dealing with Chinese companies.