Did alleged spy spill secrets, compromise China's intelligence agents in US?
Accused Chinese state-security official purportedly worked for CIA and revealed 'political, economic and strategic intelligence,' sources say
HONG KONG — A Chinese state-security official arrested this year on allegations of spying for Washington is suspected to have compromised some of China's U.S. agents in a major setback that angered President Hu Jintao, sources said.
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The official, an aide to a vice minister, was taken into custody sometime between January and March after the ministry became alarmed last year over repeated incidents of Chinese agents being compromised in the United States, they said.
The ministry's own investigations found the aide had been working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years, divulging information about China's overseas spy network in the nation's worst espionage scandal for two decades, they added.
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The sources' comments represent the first confirmation that overseas Chinese espionage was deemed to have been damaged by the security breach, which has been kept quiet by both Beijing and Washington. Reuters first reported it on June 1.
The aide's identity has still not been revealed but he worked for vice minister Lu Zhongwei, the sources said, speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the case.
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Despite the breach, Lu has been spared formal punishment, the sources added, confirming for the first time that the vice minister had been cleared of working for the Americans after the wider investigation ordered by President Hu.
Instead, Beijing found that Lu had failed to properly screen the aide before hiring him. It stopped short of disciplining the vice minister, anxious to put the scandal to rest after several other political and diplomatic embarrassments this year.
"Lu Zhongwei's problem was he used a person without (adequately) investigating first," one source said, adding "The central government does not want to create trouble in a politically sensitive year."
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China's ruling Communist Party plans a once-a-decade leadership transition late this year and is keen to wrap it up without further trouble. The normally well choreographed process has already been marred by a murder scandal which claimed the career of Bo Xilai, a contender for the new leadership team.
Scandal after scandal China's Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the security breach. The Ministry of State Security is one of the most opaque government agencies in China and does not have a public website or spokesperson. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declined to comment on the case, saying only this month that the two countries continued to cooperate on many issues.
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Lu turns 59 this year and is set to retire soon anyway, a second source said, noting the vice minister was not suspected of having worked for the Americans.
"He did not change color," the source added.
Lu, a native of Shanghai, also has ties to a Beijing-based international think-tank which, according to two researchers familiar with the organization, recently curtailed contacts with foreign researchers and also trips to conferences abroad.
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The spy scandal ranks as the most serious between China and the United States to be made public since 1985 when Yu Qiangsheng, an intelligence official, defected to the United States. The defection exposed a retired Chinese-American CIA analyst who killed himself in 1986 in a U.S. prison cell, days before he was due to be sentenced to a lengthy jail term.
Lu's aide was arrested at around the same time that China's worst political scandal since the 1989 army crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests was unfolding, though the sources said the two cases were unrelated.
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The political scandal erupted in February when the police chief of Chongqing in southwest China took shelter for 24 hours in a U.S. consulate. Chongqing's ambitious Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai, was later suspended after it emerged the police chief had been investigating Bo's wife for murder.
Bo's wife has been detained on suspicion she poisoned a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in a dispute over money.
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In late April, relations came under even more pressure when blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He spent six days in the embassy, sparking a diplomatic crisis that was resolved only after he left China last month to take up an academic fellowship in New York.
2009: U.S.-China recession tensions
Amid global recession, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner traveled to China to discuss economic issues with China's top leaders. Washington pressed Beijing to let its currency trade more freely to help correct the trade imbalance. The U.S. also urged Beijing to encourage Chinese citizens to save less and spend more to help boost the global economy. An increasingly assertive Beijing also presented its agenda, calling on the United States to "guarantee the safety of China’s assets" in the U.S. Beijing worried that Washington’s policies would cause the dollar to depreciate, with dire consequences for its investments. Beijing holds $1.45 trillion in U.S.-denominated assets. In this June 2, 2009, image, Geithner meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. (Getty Images)
2007: Dalai Lama award angers Beijing
The 14th Dalai Lama greets supporters October 17, 2007 in front of the U.S. Capitol during a trip to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by U.S. lawmakers. The award infuriated Chinese leaders who had long accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of seeking independence for Tibet, which China claims as part of its territory. The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959 when China's military crushed the Tibetan resistance movement. He denies advocating independence for Tibet and instead accuses Beijing of committing cultural genocide in the region. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)
2001: Midair collision
A U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island off China’s southern coast after a collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet. One Chinese pilot died after parachuting into the South China Sea. China detained the 24-member U.S. crew of the EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance aircraft for 11 days, releasing them only after the U.S. sent a letter of apology. Beijing also suspended all U.S. military visits to Hong Kong, a key stopover point, for three months. In this image from an April 13, 2001, briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters that the Chinese jet became aggressive and hit the U.S. plane from below. (Getty Images)
2000: Trade with China normalized
After years of negotiation with Beijing, U.S. lawmakers granted China Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, allowing unconditional, unlimited access for Chinese-made goods into the U.S. market. It also ended an annual review of China’s human rights record, upon which continuation of trade access had been conditioned. The action also paved the way for China’s entery into the World Trade Organization in September 2001. From 2000 to 2008, U.S.-China trade volume soared from $116 billion to $409 billion. In this image from May 2000, Chinese workers produce shoes for a U.S. company at a factory in northeast China’s Shenyang city. (Goh Chai Hin / AFP/Getty Images)
1999: U.S. airstrike hits Chinese Embassy
During NATO air raids on Serbia, U.S. warplanes bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade, killing three journalists in the building. U.S. President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials apologized for what NATO described as a tragic error. But Beijing and many Chinese citizens believed the strike to be intentional, and the incident sparked anti-American protest in China. In this image, taken May 9, 1999, a day after the bombing, thousands of Chinese protesters march on the U.S. and British embassies in Beijing. (Stephen Shaver / AFP - Getty Images)
1997: Breaking the ice after a decade
Chinese President Jiang Zemin and U.S. President Bill Clinton held formal talks in Washington in late 1997, marking the first state visit by a Chinese leader since before the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The meetings covered trade tensions, nuclear technology, human rights abuses and religious persecution in Tibet. In this image, Jiang and Clinton share a toast during a state dinner on Oct. 29, 1997 in the East Room of the White House. A year later Clinton traveled to Beijing for formal discussions, signaling that relations between the two countries were getting back on a more normal footing after a decade of tension. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images)
1995: Lee trip rankles Beijing
For the first time since it re-established formal diplomatic ties with China, Washington granted a visa to a sitting Taiwan president. The move drew a harsh protest from Beijing, which also suspended nuclear and missile control talks with the United States. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's first democratically elected president, especially angered Beijing because of his ambivalence to reunification with China. Breaking from decades of Nationalist Party rhetoric, Lee stressed the right of Taiwan people to determine their future. Some feared that if Lee or newly empowered Taiwan voters made a formal call for independence, it could prompt military action by Beijing and pull the U.S. into the conflict. In this June 10, 1995, photo, Lee chats with Cornell University President Frank Rhodes after speaking at the school. (Bob Strong / AFP/Getty Images)`
1992: U.S. weapons sales anger Beijing
China protested vehemently when U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which had been hovering around $500 million a year, suddenly jumped more than 1,000 percent with the sale of 150 F-16 fighter jets. China charged that the sale violated a 1982 agreement with Beijing in which Washington said it would not increase weapons sales to Taiwan in either quality or quantity. Supporters of the sale said it was in line with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, in which the United States pledged to provide arms to Taiwan seen as necessary for its defense. In this Sept. 12, 2007, image, missiles are arrayed next to an F-16 fighter jet at the Chiayi air force base in southern Taiwan. (Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty Images)
1989: Tiananmen crackdown puts relations on ice
Popular protests in Beijing and other cities were crushed by a military crackdown, leaving hundreds of people dead. In response, the United States imposed economic and trade sanctions on China and many U.S. citizens working or studying there left the country. Beijing remained unrepentant in the face of the sanctions and criticism over its human rights record, which the Chinese government rejected as “interference” in China’s internal affairs. In this June 4, 1989, photo, dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (AP)
1979: Formal ties
Formal diplomatic relations were restored between Beijing and Washington on Jan. 1, 1979. Simultaneously, Washington severed formal relations with Taiwan (Republic of China), while continuing business and cultural ties. Through the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington also promised to supply defensive weapons to Taiwan. Shortly after the resumption of ties with Beijing, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited the United States, meeting with top U.S. officials and business leaders. Deng was pressing economic reforms in China and preparing to greatly expand his free market experiment in the 1980s. In this image, Deng, right, and his wife Zhuo Lin, far left, appear with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter on Jan. 31, 1979. (AFP - Getty Images)
1976: Mao's end, start of a new era
The death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976 marked the end of an era of radical politics and isolation from the West. In just a few years, Deng Xiaoping triumphed over conservative ideologues who had surrounded Mao, and rose to leadership of China's Communist Party and government. While beginning experiments with economic reforms, Deng also opened the doors to broad cultural and educational exchange with the United States. In this image, Chinese citizens file past Mao as he lies in state in Beijing on Sept. 12, 1976. (AFP/Getty Images)
1972: Nixon visit “changed the world”
In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon, who had a reputation as a tough anti-communist, traveled to China to hold talks with Communist Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. On the final stop of the trip to Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai, the U.S. and Chinese governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué — a pledge to work toward the normalization of diplomatic relations. Nixon later said of the trip: "This was the week that changed the world,” in which the two sides agreed “to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past.” In this Feb. 22, 1972, image, Mao and Nixon shake hands after their meeting in Beijing. (AFP - Getty Images)