former military intelligence officer who has tracked the activities
of the People's Liberation Army and Chinese intelligence services
for 35 years, I know of no more pervasive and active intelligence
threat to America's national security than that posed by the
People's Republic of China. The workforce available to the Chinese
government and its corporations to devote to gathering information
in the United States is nearly limitless.
There are some 700,000 visitors to the
United States from China each year, including 135,000 students. It
is impossible to know if these people are here for study and
research or if they are here to steal our secrets. The sheer
numbers defy complete vetting or counterintelligence coverage.
2003, for example, the State Department granted about 27,000 visas
to Chinese "specialty workers," the H1-B visa. Some of these were
intra-company transfers coming to the United States from U.S. firms
operating in China. Between 1993 and 2003, the United States has
granted an average of 40,000 immigrant visas to Chinese each year.
The sheer magnitude if these numbers presents a great challenge to
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, particularly when the U.S. is
also concerned about terrorism, which occupies a lot of
investigative time for agents.
Chinese People's Liberation Army and the defense establishment in
China started programs in the late 1970s and 1980s to create
companies designed to bring in needed defense technology; the goal
was to produce defense goods for the PLA and for sale to other
- The General Political Department of the
People's Liberation Army started a proprietary company, Kaili, or
Kerry Corporation, that for years operated in the U.S. as a real
estate and investment company.
- The General Equipment Department of the
PLA operated a proprietary company, Polytechnologies, or Baoli,
that had offices here in the U.S.
- In addition, the General Logistics
Department operated a proprietary called Xinshidai, or New Era,
that had offices in our nation and continues to be responsible for
a network of PLA manufacturing plants in China.
These technically are independent legal
entities under Chinese law, but the Central Military Commission of
the Chinese Communist Party established them to serve the interests
of the PLA and the military-industrial complex. Active or retired
officers of the PLA or their families originally staffed these
companies. The PLA and related defense science and technology
research and development organizations in China regularly operate
trade fairs to attract American high technology into China.
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Technology Security and
Counterproliferation has testified that there are between 2,000 and
3,000 Chinese front companies operating in the United States to
gather secret or proprietary information, much of which is national
security technology or information. The deputy director of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation for counterintelligence recently
put the number of Chinese front companies in the U.S. at over
3,200. Many of these front companies are the spawn of the military
proprietary companies discussed in the preceding paragraph.
nature of the Chinese state complicates the problem of knowing what
the large numbers of travelers and students from China are actually
doing. China is still an authoritarian, one-party state led by the
Chinese Communist Party with a pervasive intelligence and security
apparatus. The Chinese government is able to identify potential
collectors of information and, if necessary, to coerce them to
carry out missions on behalf of the government because of the lack
of civil liberties in China. Let me quote the first three sentences
of Chapter 1, Article 1, of the Chinese Constitution:
The People's Republic of China is a
socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by
the working class and based on the alliance of workers and
peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People's
Republic of China. Disruption of the socialist system by any
organization or individual is prohibited.
People's Republic of China is methodical in its programs to gather
information from abroad. In March 1986, the PRC launched a national
high-technology research and development program with the specific
goal of benefiting China's medium- and long-term high-technology
development. This centralized program, known as the "863 Program"
for the date when it was announced, allocates money to experts in
China to acquire and develop biotechnology, space technology,
information technology, laser technology, automation technology,
energy technology, and advanced materials.
I was at the American Embassy in China and conducted due-diligence
checks to confirm the nature of Chinese companies seeking to do
high-technology business in the United States, I most often found
that the address identified for a company on a visa application
turned out to be a People's Liberation Army or PRC government
defense research institute. Thus, the United States faces an
organized program out of China that is designed to gather
high-technology data and equipment of military use.
Screening to Protect Trade and
January 1998, the Visas Mantis program was developed to assist the
American law enforcement and intelligence communities in securing
U.S.-produced goods and information that are vulnerable to theft.
Travelers are subject to a worldwide name-check and vetting
procedure when they apply for visas. The security objectives of
this program are to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction and missile delivery systems; to restrain the
development of destabilizing conventional military capabilities in
certain regions; to prevent the transfer of arms and sensitive
dual-use items to terrorists; and to maintain United States
advantages in militarily critical technologies.
program operates effectively and can vet a Chinese student in as
few as 13 days. Non-students may take longer, as many as 56 days.
However, I can tell you, based on my trip to China two weeks ago,
that the American Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate in Guangzhou
are able to process and vet in about two weeks visas for
non-student travelers who fully and accurately outline the purpose
and itinerary of their trip.
Still, many U.S. companies complain about
delays in getting visas for travelers they want to bring to the
United States. Automation and data-mining software can speed visa
processing to ensure that these companies can be competitive. The
government also operates a "technology alert list" to identify
legal travelers from China that may benefit from exposure to
advanced U.S. technology with military application. Of course, the
consular officers manning visa lines in embassies must be trained
to look for signs of espionage for screening to be effective.
provinces and municipalities in China now operate high-technology
zones and "incubator parks" specifically designed to attract back
Chinese nationals who have studied or worked overseas in critical
high-technology areas. When students or entrpreneurs return with
skills or knowledge that the central government deems critical,
they are given free office space in the parks, loans, financial
aid, and administrative help in setting up a business designed to
bring in foreign investment and technology. Their companies are
given tax holidays. Innovative programs, such as those at Beijing's
Zhongguancun High Technology Park and Guangzhou's High Technology
Economic and Trade Zone, get central government help.
These are admirable programs that will
develop entrpreneurial skills among well-educated Chinese citizens.
However, as students and employees of U.S. companies return home,
it is important to know that they are not taking back American
economic or military secrets. Good counterintelligence and
industrial security programs are very important to U.S. security,
given this threat.
Inadequate Enforcement of Intellectual
enforcement of intellectual property protection laws in China is
spotty and inconsistent at best. This is one of the major
complaints of American high-technology companies about China's
compliance with its obligations under the World Trade Agreement.
tendency to steal intellectual property and high-technology secrets
in China is worsened when intellectual property laws are not
enforced there. And the problem is further exacerbated when
centralized Chinese government programs, such as the 863 Program
mentioned earlier, are specifically designed to acquire foreign
high technology with military application. This only creates a
climate inside China that rewards stealing secrets.
believe that U.S. government security, intelligence, and law
enforcement agencies must focus on the national security. They
should be looking for acts of espionage and for violations of the
Arms Export Control Act or the Export Administration Act.
it comes to corporate or industrial espionage that is not a matter
of national security, I believe that the government owes American
companies a good legal infrastructure to protect trademarks,
patents, and copyrights; a system of education on industrial
security; and a strong effort to ensure that China meets its own
obligations to create a rule of law that protects the right of
ownership and intellectual property.
However, I do not believe that American
intelligence or security agencies should focus on forms of economic
espionage that do not involve national security information. From
the standpoint of congressional action, my view is that the
Congress should reconsider the Export Administration Act with a
view toward ensuring that its provisions meet the needs of 21st
century technology. The 1979 Export Administration Act expired in
2001. The Senate passed a new Act in 2001, but no revision passed
executive branch must regularly review the Commodity Control List
to ensure that appropriate national security controls on exports
protect the nation's security but do not unduly restrict the
ability of American industry to compete in the world market.
Generally, technologies that are widely available on the world
market and not unique to the United States should not be unduly
restricted unless they can be subject to mulitlateral export
Finally, we cannot become paranoid and
suspect that every traveler, student, and businessman from China is
a spy or is out to steal technology. Many of the people that come
to the United States absorb our values and bring them home. We must
keep in mind that in earlier decades, in places like the Republic
of China on Taiwan and in South Korea, the steady flow of returning
students and immigrants who were exposed to American values and
principles eventually eroded dictatorships and produced multi-party
democracies. The prudent course of action for the United States is
to maintain law enforcement programs, counterintelligence programs,
and security education and industrial security programs as the
means to protect our nation.
Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D., is a Visiting Fellow
at The Heritage Foundation. This analysis is adapted slightly from
testimony presented to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border
Security, and Claims of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S.
House of Representatives.