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On guard against the Chinese

| Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007

WASHINGTON

Alarm bells have sounded in many offices of Western governments and their allies.

From Washington through Canberra, to Paris, London and Berlin, government agencies have suffered several months of an onslaught by the "informationized armed forces" of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).

When President George Bush met with Chinese President Hu Jintao two weeks ago in Australia, their agenda noted discussions on trade and global warming.

But when administration accounts of these meetings are published months hence, the record will show that the president expressed concerns to Hu relative to the penetration of the U.S. Defense Department's Niprnet.

That's a segment of the Pentagon's 35 internal networks that service some of their 3.5 million computers. The belief is the PLA officially sanctioned the hacking.

Hu denied the charge and aides pointed out that 120 other countries could actively pursue cyber warfare.

A few days later, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said that his defense department had been under cyber attack but he believed that their firewalls had not been breached.

Two weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of cyber attacks on an official visit to China, saying that the government should "respect a set of game rules."

Merkel's strictures followed magazine reports that Chinese cyber-warfare equipment had been found in her foreign and economic departments and in her own office.

The FBI, whose agents are the frontline troops in the furtive wars of foreign counterintelligence and cyber warfare, is both alarmed and concerned about the increasing numbers of Chinese agents involved in espionage in the United States.

Targets sought by the several thousand Chinese agents "loose" in the United States focus on America's cutting edge technology -- computer technology, research and sensitive defense information, it says.

The FBI believes that a high proportion of all Chinese visitors have been tasked with missions for their government. A recent bureau report claims there are at least 3,000 Chinese-operated front companies in the United States whose actual business was to direct espionage efforts.

Which reminds us of Katrina Leung -- a Chinese-born, U.S.-educated wealthy Los Angeles store owner -- who was arrested on espionage charges.

In China, where the media are more restrained, published reports state that Yang Shangkun, president from 1988 to 1993, "liked" Leung; she was referred to as a "favorite" of other leaders in Beijing.

Photographs of Leung with the president and Jiang Zemin, then a prime minister in-waiting, appeared in Chinese magazines.

According to FBI files, Leung in the past 20 years had 2,100 meetings with Chinese officials for which, and other services, the FBI paid her about $2 million.

Whether she was paid by the Chinese is unknown.

The FBI is our major defense against foreign espionage.

With China confirming itself as the threat it has become, we should ask in the Leung matter whether the FBI was lax, lazy, inept, outsmarted by the Chinese -- or just turned into plain traitors by a pretty young Asian face.

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