Biden’s Border Crisis Promotes Foreign Espionage in Plain Sight

COMMENTARY Immigration

Biden’s Border Crisis Promotes Foreign Espionage in Plain Sight

May 31, 2024 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Simon Hankinson

Senior Research Fellow

Simon is a Senior Research Fellow in the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation.
U.S. President Joe Biden stands on stage at Girard College on May 29, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

In March, a Chinese man wandered onto a Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, California. He was believed to have crossed illegally into the U.S.

China has many potential amateur spies to choose from.

China’s strategy of espionage in plain sight will slowly create the potential to sow havoc at Beijing’s command when the time is ripe. 

In March, a Chinese man wandered onto a Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, California. He was believed to have crossed illegally into the U.S. and was released by DHS pending a decision in his asylum application. He claimed to have been lost. 

But it isn’t that easy to stumble onto what the Marine Times called their “vast combat training installation located in the remote California desert.” Though he was apprehended, he scoped out the security at our biggest Marine base. According to the Wall Street Journal, there have been around 100 such “innocent” incidents in recent years. 

These are likely amateurs carrying out one-off espionage gigs for China. China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law demands that, “all organizations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.” 

Earlier this year, The Heritage Foundation Oversight Project filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Defense Department to see how many bases had been targets of such surveillance. To date, they have only received information from Pearl Harbor, but responses from that base alone showed multiple intrusions by Chinese nationals in the past few years. 

>>> Threat From China Is Growing at Our Southern Border

China has many potential amateur spies to choose from. Their Belt and Road initiative construction projects in Africa and Asia are notorious for bringing in workers from China rather than hiring locals. Chinese investment in the U.S. Northern Marianas Islands brought problems from “human trafficking to birth tourism, labor abuse, money laundering, and public corruption,” according to the commonwealth’s governor. 

Soon, these same ills may be coming to the mainland United States. Hiring thousands of Chinese nationals to work in sensitive U.S. industries or locations invites a problem that political analyst John Hulsman calls espionage “hiding in plain sight.” 

This year so far, 27,000 Chinese nationals have been apprehended at the southern border, and most of them will be released after they state a “credible fear" of persecution. If they apply, for asylum, they can get authorization to work within six months, after which Chinese-owned businesses can legally hire them. 

You couldn’t invent a cheaper, faster, less scrutinized foreign work-visa program if you tried. 

Two recent articles in the Wall Street Journal highlight concerns. 

First, there is the Hotel Rössli in Unterbach, Switzerland. It overlooks an airbase where the Swiss want to keep F-35 jets bought from the U.S. The hotel was bought by Chinese investors, the Wang family, although they had no idea how to run an inn, closed the restaurant, and spent most of their time back in China. It is hardly speculating to suggest that China might be interested in acquiring access to property only 100 yards from where state-of-the-art F-35’s will be kept. 

Second, there is a risk from Chinese-owned companies that service our undersea cables. The first undersea cables were laid in the 1860s, and even today almost all internet traffic flows through undersea fiberoptics. The cables are vulnerable, as the U.S. demonstrated by secretly tapping into Soviet cables in the Cold War. 

China may now be using the same playbook against us. S.B. Submarine Systems—a Chinese company—reportedly turned off the Automatic Identification System (AIS) location devices on several ships servicing undersea cables for days at a time. 

Deliberately turning off AIS is almost always an indicator of nefarious activity—usually sanctions-evasion—and was “unusual for commercial cable ships and lacked clear explanation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Cables carrying internet traffic are important to the national economy and present convenient targets for sabotage in time of conflict. Even if they aren’t yet physically touching cables, the fact that Chinese-owned vessels and crew are servicing America’s underseas cables means that Beijing knows the location of critical infrastructure. 

>>> The Biden Administration Wants Even More Money to Distribute Illegal Aliens Throughout the United States

And by owning land near cable landing sites, Chinese firms can access cables before they reach the sea floor. 

A May 9 hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee highlighted how Chinese nationals are exploiting our porous southern border to illegally enter the United States. They are not vetted for criminal records back home, nor ties to the Chinese army or intelligence services. This allows our main adversary a steady supply of possible espionage assets.

With their families still back home, many Chinese illegally living in the U.S. are subject to pressure from the long arm of the Chinese government even if they aren’t active agents. 

One step to improve security would be to require Chinese to go through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, in which applicants remain abroad pending acceptance as refugees.

Another would be to require the Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review any firm hiring paroled or asylum-seeking Chinese for national security concerns. 

The administration should take these steps quickly. Otherwise, China’s strategy of espionage in plain sight will slowly create the potential to sow havoc at Beijing’s command when the time is ripe. 

This piece originally appeared in Fox News

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