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Spy balloon discovery: How China and the US are spying on each other


A Chinese observation balloon has been spotted over the United States. In fact, there are numerous espionage activities by the superpowers: cyber attacks, Trojan parks, dead agents - the overview.

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Spy balloon over Montana: Apparently highly sensitive bases for US nuclear weapons should be spied on

Photo: Chase Doak / Chase Doak via REUTERS

A white circle can be seen against a blue sky.

This is what amateur footage from Montana shows.

What seems harmless is worrying for the US.

According to the Pentagon, the flying object is said to be a Chinese spy balloon that has penetrated US airspace.

Apparently, the balloon was supposed to spy on highly sensitive bases for US nuclear weapons, and security forces are watching it closely.

As unusual as the balloon may seem, espionage activity between the US and China is not uncommon.

On the contrary, cases have been uncovered again and again in recent years.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned as early as 2020: "Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence investigations currently being conducted across the country, about half are related to China." But espionage also goes the other way.

Five cases at a glance.

The Trojan Park

It sounded like a generous gift: in 2017 Beijing wanted to invest around 100 million dollars to create a large Chinese park in the US capital Washington.

Magnificent temples, large pavilions and bamboo groves were to be built on several hectares of land.

The Washington Post wrote of one of the most ambitious Chinese gardens in the west.

The park should attract thousands of tourists and improve US-China relations, it said.

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Montana state: Pentagon sights Chinese spy balloon over northern US

But the construction was never implemented.

The FBI had noticed suspicious plans, CNN reported last July.

The planned pagoda should therefore be strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington, only about three kilometers from the Capitol.

It's a perfect place to collect intelligence signals, CNN quoted several sources familiar with the matter as saying.

In addition, certain materials for construction were to be delivered in diplomats' luggage, which US Customs officials should not have been allowed to examine.

The Wall Street Journal reported security concerns back in 2018.

The USA then quietly and secretly cashed in on the building plans.

Operation Honey Badger: Agents killed in China

They were everywhere - in the government, in the Communist Party and also in the military or the intelligence services.

For years, the US had installed a large network of spies at the highest levels of China in Operation Honey Badger.

Then it blew up from 2010.

Beijing took brutal action against the suspected agents.

According to the New York Times, more than a dozen suspects were jailed or killed, and Foreign Policy magazine reported at least 30 spies killed.

The anger in China was great, after all the case showed how vulnerable and insecure the system had apparently been.

"We scared them to death," Foreign Policy quotes an unnamed former CIA official as saying.

The main factor in the success of the network: the widespread corruption in China at the time.

According to the magazine, the US paid bribes so that its people could rise in the Chinese apparatus.

The “carriage fees” are said to have been millions of dollars.

With their people in the high plains of China, the US then got secret information.

According to the New York Times, the collapse of the system hit US espionage plans hard.

How the network ultimately blew up is unclear.

Experts consider it possible that there was a mole in the US ranks.

Chinese experts may also have hacked the CIA's system, which the service used to communicate with sources abroad.

The NSA Affair

The NSA affair sparked a global scandal in 2013.

DER SPIEGEL and the international media published extensive secret documents proving that the US foreign intelligence service and other secret services were massively and without cause monitoring global communications.

It also became clear that Washington had targeted Beijing.

The American government had launched a major digital offensive against China.

Among the targets attacked by US intelligence are former President Hu Jintao, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the State Department, banks and telecommunications companies.

The NSA made special efforts against the Huawei group.

A special unit of the US intelligence service managed to infiltrate Huawei's computer network at around 100 points and copy, among other things, a list of more than 1,400 customers and internal documents for training engineers on Huawei products.

To this day, the United States continues to impose sanctions on the group.

The government justified the move with the protection of national security.

There are fears that Huawei technology such as smartphones could be a gateway for Chinese espionage or sabotage.

cyber attacks

In recent years, espionage attacks via the Internet have increased significantly.

The superpowers are not only interested in government secrets, but also in economic espionage.

One of the best-known examples, however, dates back several years: China's "Operation Aurora," which was exposed in early 2010.

Multiple hacker groups with ties to the Chinese military have carried out numerous cyberattacks against US companies.

The so-called Elderwood Gang, for example, attacked the US giant Google.

Google's chief legal officer at the time, David Drummond, admitted that Chinese hackers had managed to illegally access data from the company's mail accounts.

They also stole "intellectual property" from Google.

The then Google cybersecurity officer Alma Whitten was impressed.

“I've worked at Google since 2003, we're under regular attacks, but this is definitely one of the most sophisticated I've seen in terms of style and scope,” Whitten said at the time.

Fear of spying students

The fear of espionage is not only present in government circles or in business, but also at universities.

In 2020, the then US President Donald Trump decreed that around 1000 visas for Chinese students and Chinese research staff in the USA were revoked.

Then-US Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf said the US was blocking visas for certain Chinese students and researchers with ties to China's military.

They should be prevented from "stealing or otherwise appropriated sensitive research."

There have also been cases of Chinese espionage in Germany.

In April 2022, the Munich Higher Regional Court convicted a German couple of being agents for a Chinese intelligence service.

Read more about the case here.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2023-02-03

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