Chinese Spies in Europe

There are three different stories on this subject in the news recently.

The first story came from France.

(AFP via The Peninsula)  Chinese students running ‘spy network’ in Europe.  May 12, 2005.

... the case of a 22-year-old Chinese woman who is being investigated in France for spying on the big car parts maker Valeo, which employed her.

The woman, identified as Li Li Whuang, was placed in preventive detention in France in late April after Valeo filed a complaint for “abuse of confidence” and “illegal database intrusion”.  During a search of her home, police found six computers and two hard drives with a “huge capacity” that contained material considered confidential by Valeo’s management.

The Chinese national, who has denied the accusations, had worked since February as an intern in Valeo’s research and development division in southwest Paris.  It is believed she may have copied features of a number of cars made by different companies that are still on the drawing board. “She was a good little soldier,” a source close to the investigation said, adding that preliminary evidence taken from the computers implicated her.

At the same time, the woman—who already holds diplomas in mathematics, applied physics and fluid mechanics — was studying at a university in Compiegne, northeast of the French capital.  A source close to the inquiry described the woman, who speaks German, Spanish, English, French and some Arabic, as “brilliant” and of “exceptional competence”.

Some information from Global Times via on the mysterious female spy:

22-year-old Li Li is from the city of Wuhan in China.  In the fall of 2001, she was accepted by the Université de Technologie de Compiègne outside of Paris on the basis of her high school examination.  The next year, she paid her own way to enter the university to study physics and engineering.  In February this year, the university arranged for her to begin a six-month internship at the auto parts maker Valeo before her graduation.

According to a spokesperson from the Université de Technologie de Compiègne, nobody believes that Li Li is a spy.  Her academic grades are only fair, she was not particularly good in computing and she definitely has no linguistic talents.  The police confirmed that she only has one computer.  The general manager of Valeo has told the board of directors that the documents that were downloaded by Li Li were not of a "highly sensitive" nature, and he declined to use the term "industrial spy" to describe Li Li.

(Updates)  Libération interview (June 21, 2005)

The second story came from Sweden.

(AFP via The Local)  China "suspected of spying at Swedish universities."  May 9, 2005.

China is suspected of hiring scientists to spy and steal unpatented research from Swedish universities, Swedish public radio reported on Monday.

Quoting an unnamed detective within Sweden's security service, Säpo, radio news program Ekot reported that guest scientists from China were suspected of stealing unpublished and unpatented research from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.  The Chinese state is suspected of orchestrating the espionage, according to Ekot.

"Guest researchers (can) have assignments besides their guest research assignment: to come across information coveted in their home country," another Säpo inspector, Nils Kaerrlander, told Ekot, speaking of research espionage in general.  "There are also countries that would not hesitate to put pressure on guest researchers, who may have come here with no other ambition but to complete their research assignment," he added.

While Säpo often warns companies and research labs about the possibility of espionage from other firms or countries, spokesman Jakob Larsson insisted that the service had not gone public with any specific suspicions against China or any other nation.  "There is always a risk of espionage, since research is so expensive to do... but we don't know who this mysterious detective (Ekot) is quoting is," he told AFP, referring to the unnamed source.

One of the reporters who produced the story, Bo Goeran Bodin, however claimed that the detective had informed her superiors that she told Ekot about the suspicions against China.  "We have a woman detective at Säpo on tape, but she did not want her name to be revealed... We spoke with her several times and she has said it was China" that was suspected of the espionage, Bodin told AFP.

Karolinska Institute director, Harriet Wallberg Henriksson, said she took the reports seriously. However, she added that the university had not received direct confirmation from Säpo that an investigation was taking place, and said she was awaiting further information.

Wallberg-Henriksson also said that she that she regretted that China had been singled out.  "We value our partnership with China and other Asian countries which are currently making huge efforts in medicinal research and biotechnology, which benefits us in Sweden," she said.

Wallberg-Henriksson added that her university also valued its relationships with its guest researchers from China, and was anxious that they should not feel that they were being treated as spies.

Is this a mystery or what?  Supposedly, Sweden's security service, Säpo, is investigating espionage at the Karolinska Institute.  But neither Säpo nor the Karolinska Institute is aware of any such investigation.  By this point, given the exposure already, this could not even be a case of them refusing to comment in order not to compromise an ongoing investigation.

Some information from Global Times at on the Chinese spies in Sweden:

On May 11, Karolinska Institute director, Harriet Wallberg Henriksson, wrote to the Chinese ambassador to Sweden.  On May 12, the two met in person, during which the following was disclosed: a certain university research team had a dispute with the Karolinska Institute on research issues, and therefore wanted to use outside forces to attack the Institute.  The Institute has informed the government on this matter.  Director Henriksson hoped that this will stop the media hysteria.

The third story came from Belgium:

(AFP via The Peninsula)  Chinese students running ‘spy network’ in Europe.  May 12, 2005.

A network of Chinese students coordinated from Belgium is believed to be carrying out industrial espionage in several northern European countries, according to a think-tank known as the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre.  In its latest bi-monthly letter, the centre quoted unnamed European intelligence sources as saying that that an “economic spy network” was being run from an educational institution in Belgium and had been under surveillance for two years.

The ring, the sources said, uses a group of students and internship seekers as a “front organisation”, with no obvious links to Chinese diplomats, and dozens of these agents are planted around northern Europe.

The report listed the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and France as places where the ring is operating and said that “it is trying today to plant moles in central Europe.”  “Its main targets: laboratories and big universities,” the centre said. The French newspaper Le Monde identified the front group as “The Chinese Students and Scholars Association of Leuven” (CSSAL), which it said was made up of 400 to 700 students and researchers at Leuven’s Flemish Catholic University.  

Some more information from Global Times via on the Chinese spies in Belgium:

The CSSAL was quite angry and sought information about the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre and that particular newsletter for the purpose of seeking legal redress.  All they were able to do was to reach ESISC's website where only an "under construction" sign was present.  The CSSAL does not even know who to go after.

(Telegraph)  China aims spy network at trade secrets in Europe.  By Damien McElroy.  July 3, 2005.

A network of Chinese industrial spies has been established across Europe as the Communist government's intelligence agencies shift their resources and attention from traditional Cold War espionage towards new forms of subterfuge aimed at achieving global commercial dominance.

The extent of the spying was laid bare after a leading Chinese agent "defected" in Belgium. The agent, who has worked in European universities and companies for more than 10 years, has given the Sûreté de l'Etat, the Belgian equivalent of MI5, detailed information on hundreds of Chinese spies working at various levels of European industry.

With the number of Chinese entering Europe about to increase as Beijing relaxes travel restrictions, Western intelligence agencies fear that the spying will be even more difficult to combat. Britain is likely to be one of the countries where significant infiltration is planned.

"There is a large Chinese intelligence operation in northern Europe spanning communications, space, defence, chemicals and heavy industries," said Claude Monique, a Brussels-based intelligence analyst.

"The Chinese agent has given details of hundreds of experts and their activities. As a result national inquiries have been launched, certainly by the German, French, Netherlands and Belgian agencies and, I believe, in Britain too."

A former British official, who runs a private consultancy specialising in fraud and risk management in Beijing, said that the Ministry of State Security systematically extracted the information it wanted from Chinese people travelling aboard, including tourists, businessmen and scientists.

"Any ethnic Chinese with relatives or business interests in China is vulnerable," he said. "There are a large number of people who live at or travel to key locations who are regularly debriefed or given orders to obtain various types of strategic information that Beijing finds is militarily or economically useful.

"Traditionally, the Chinese who went abroad since the late 1970s for trade or study purposes were in businesses controlled by the state. That apparatus of spying has grown over time as Chinese ambitions have risen."

Visa regulations easing restrictions on Chinese tourism have recently come into force in the UK, as well as continental Europe, and attempts to monitor travellers' activities and telephone calls are at risk of being overwhelmed. A spokesman for the security services said that Chinese spying already represented a significant intelligence challenge that mirrored the threat previously posed by Russian agents.

The defector making the allegations of spying in Belgium has refused to come forward in public because he has not yet received political asylum. He is described by Western intelligence officials as a leading figure in the Chinese Students and Scholars' Association of Leuven, an alleged front organisation based in a Belgian university town that co-ordinated industrial espionage activities across Europe.

According to an intelligence official, the association enabled Beijing's Ministry of State Security to maintain contact with a wide spectrum of Chinese citizens living across the continent: "The Chinese operate at many levels, from the pure intelligence agents based at embassies to researchers sent to Europe for training to individual citizens who work apparently independently for five or 10 years until they are in a position to prove their usefulness."

Among the companies targeted by the Chinese network, according to Belgian officials, is the French communications company Alcatel. It is contracted to build the €1 billion (£676m) Galileo satellite communications system that European leaders have promoted as a rival to the American Global Positioning System, which has a monopoly of satellite communications systems.

The Western intelligence official said that China had been brought in as an official partner on the technology, largely because its successful espionage made it futile to keep Beijing out.

The strongest complaints about Chinese spying have emerged in America. David Szady, the chief of FBI counter-intelligence operations, has said that China is rapidly eroding America's technological superiority: "I think you see it where something that would normally take 10 years to develop takes them two or three.

"What they are looking for are the systems or materials or the designs or the batteries or the air-conditioning or the things that make that thing tick," he said. "That's what they are very good at collecting, going after both the private sector, the industrial complexes, as well as the colleges and universities in collecting scientific developments that they need."

A recent report to the American House of Representatives listed 16 "remarkable" Chinese technological breakthroughs that could have been achieved only by industrial espionage. These included a supercomputer that runs at speeds previously achieved only by America and Japan. Sophisticated communications systems, advanced satellite technology and advances in nano-technology were also identified as suspect in the report.

Among recent Chinese military advances, which experts believe increase Beijing's military strength in the sensitive Taiwan Strait, is a new cruise missile copy of America's Tomahawk weapon and a sea-borne defence system based on stolen Aegis system blueprints.

A Chinese adage holds that one good spy is worth 10,000 men. As China strives to displace America and Europe as a global economic powers, that ancient insight could help propel the country to new economic heights.

In the Global Times via summary:

These several "spy" cases have something in common: they used "unnamed persons" as the sources of information, and they all referred to unverified (or even unverifiable) 'facts' and all the attacks are in fact directed at China.

Why has there been a spate of these types of stories recently?  I can quote my own "unnamed sources" (actually, they are non-existent ones) to hint that these are 'black' anti-Chinese operations set up by the CIA (or MI6 or KGB or whoever).  There is no proof of that either, but it will provide some entertainment. 

And now to celebrate the glory of the blogosphere, here is a post at Bocca della Verità.  Yes, it is good to have freedom of speech and thought, isn't it?