How the FBI Combats Chinese Spies & “Honey Traps”


Chinese spies are trying to infiltrate the
US. From universities to the FBI A former FBI undercover agent Reveals their operations. This is China Uncensored, I’m Chris Chappell. Ever hear of a honey trap? A honey trap is when a hostile foreign government
uses, say, a beautiful woman, to seduce someone—a politician, a businessman,
a scientist. They might give information to her that could pose a national security risk. Or she could just use the salacious encounter
to blackmail him. And let’s just say, Chinese leaders know a thing or two about
honey. I sat down with former FBI operative Marc
Ruskin, author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover
for the FBI”… to find out how Chinese agents are using honey
traps— and many other techniques— to infiltrate the United States. Thanks for joining me today, Marc. Hey, it’s my pleasure, Chris. Thank you for inviting me. Sure. Well, so as a former FBI agent, what have you seen are some of the ways the
Chinese Communist Party is trying to gain influence in the United
States? Well, the Chinese intelligent services along with other hostile intelligence services exploit a number of vulnerabilities that exist in
the United States. And to a large extent, and this may be surprising to some of your viewers, but the majority of the data that they seek is actually available through open sources. Much of it is available legally to anyone who takes the trouble to look for it. Is this what you mean by vulnerabilities? Yeah. By vulnerabilities, I’m talking about open
… manners in which data which can be of use
to a hostile power, such as China, can be accessed without necessarily violating any federal or American laws. A lot of the data that is significant and can be used for a hostile adversary purposes is actually available through open sources. Much of it is information, for example, such as a technical report, research, engineering, which has been conducted on a very sophisticated
level and has not yet been classified. So there’s often a lag time, for example, with advanced research, the publication of the research not being
reviewed and being ultimately classified as secret
or top secret. But since the Chinese intelligence services are very active and on the ball and alert, often they’ve already accessed the information and it’s out the door prior to it being classified. So what does China do with this information? Well, we’re talking, I’m thinking basically information of a technical
level, which can then be used by own engineers and
their own researchers to advance their own level of sophistication, bypassing the research that they would’ve
had to do themselves in order to reach the same point. In other words, they’re taking advantage, and this is a problem with academia in the
United States and that we have a very open society. And by having this kind of openness, it gives more access to hostile services to
obtain information either through a variety of methods, but often not necessarily to espionage, but often it’s simply by being alert and being quick and accessing the, and knowing where the look and when to look. So that’s kind of similar to how recently
it came out that the Chair of Harvard’s Chemistry Department was getting funding from China. Right. Just last month, just at the end of January, there was an arrest of Professor Lieberand
announcements by the special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston, Bonaventura, who he explained in his statements that right
now China is, in his view, and presumably reflects the view of the FBI
today, China’s the largest intelligence threat to
the US. Whether it’s larger than Russia or not, it’s kind of like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin type of question. In either case, they’re all hostile intelligence services
and need to be, we need to take a preventative, counter-intelligence type measures in order to protect ourselves from a hostile
act. So, you’ve talked about how China takes advantage of open source information. How in the case of the Harvard Professor Lieber, how money can buy off people. How does China use foreign agents in the United
States? Well, historically there’ve been a number
of ways that the Chinese have used traditional espionage
techniques. One in particular that’s been very successful
is, and it may seem reminiscent of John Le Carre
novels, but it’s the reality is what’s referred to
in trade craft as a honey trap, which is using an attractive female case officer, intelligence officer, to develop a relationship with someone who has access to classified information. And it’s a longterm proposition to develop
an intimate, ultimately physical relationship or maybe
even the relationship that the target believes is a legitimate emotional
relationship. There was an FBI agent, a Supervisor, James, and his last name escapes me right now, but who with Katrina Leung, was the name of the intelligence officer. Not her real Mandarin name, but she developed a relationship with him and for 20 years that relationship continued. It’s hard to imagine for nearly two decades, and he was the supervisor of a China Counter
Intelligence squad in the FBI’s Los Angeles office, and he was taking, apparently, from what I
understand, confidential classified documents to his rendezvouses
with her. So until ultimately he was arrested after he retired and entered into a plea agreement with the US Attorney’s office. How common are these honey traps? Unfortunately, it’s a question that has no
real answer because all we know about is the ones that
were caught. Right? So from time to time, in the FBI it’s not very common that we know
about. The first one in the history of the FBI involved an agent called Richard Miller,who
was seduced by a Soviet at that time, Soviet Union agent, whose name was Svetlana Ogorodnikova. And so, how often does it happen in other
agencies? I would suspect it happens more often in other
agencies. The FBI has a pretty serious vetting process
for recruiting agents. And as the CIA does as well. But there are other areas where these honey
traps could be used and which are not to infiltrate America’s
Counter Intelligence services, but simply to infiltrate, say academia. You could have this kind of technique being
utilized with the college professors or engineers working at nuclear research laboratories, which we wouldn’t know about because they haven’t come to surface yet. So besides these methods, what other tactics is the Chinese Communist Party using in the
United States? I guess the one answer would be whatever they can imagine and come up with. As we all know, the Russians, the Soviets
were, since the creation of the Soviet Union has been attempting to influence the American
elections. With regard to the Russians, we can read about
it because since the fall of the Soviet Union, many ex-KGB officers who worked in the US have been able to publish their memoirs. So you can go to the bookstore and buy Kalugin’s
book and see how they were in New York and in Washington doing their best through all types of clandestine
activity to influence the elections. Now, presumably if the Russians were doing
it, the Chinese were doing it also. However, we don’t have a bunch of ex-Chinese intelligence officers publishing their memoirs because I would imagine that their longevity
would be very dim indeed were they to attempt to do so as would the health of their family members,
right? Probably. So we don’t know firsthand, but what we do
know is what has been uncovered just through ordinary
criminal investigations. And for that we can just look back to the
Clinton re-election campaign. In the Clinton re-election campaign, there was Johnny Young, and the thousands
and thousands of dollars that were being apparently allegedly contributed both directly to the Clinton re-election campaign and to the Democratic National Committee. This is Bill Clinton and the China Gate scandal
in the 90s? Right. Of course, it didn’t become as much of a scandal, I would suggest as it should have been, because according to reporting in the media, there was direct links between the People’s
Republic of China Military Intelligence Services and the recipients or the middlemen for that
money going to the campaign. So you asked how, in other words, other techniques, I would suggest that contributing to a political
party and contributing to a president’s re-election
campaign. And it’s more than just mere suspicion. There was 22 convictions as a result of this. So, this is another tactic. It’s a tactic. It’s a tactic. How successful is it? I can’t evaluate it, but it’s certainly a tactic that arguably
was used in order to influence the outcome for an American political presidential election. And also arguably inference can be made that there’s a certain amount of influence that’s being purchased through that kind of
a donation. So it seems like the Chinese Communist Party is taking advantage of the free and open society we have in the United States. How can the US counter this without giving
up these freedoms? Well, there had been an attempts for the FBI,
for example, many years ago, had an initiative. It was librarians were recruited, since there’s so much access to open source
information, the thought was that by bringing in librarians to identify suspect individual patrons, it may sound a little simple, but it could’ve been very effective, individuals with accents from countries which are known to be hostile to the US, accessing highly technical reports on a continuing
basis. It was thought, the idea was, and I think it was a good idea that it could, these could have provided leads in order to identify whether they be Chinese or Russian, or from other hostile powers, individuals seeking to exploit open source
information. The reaction from the librarians and from
the civil liberties groups was hardly very cooperative. It was just the opposite. There was a big negative reaction that caused
the initiatives to essentially have to be shut down. And there was a lot of publicity about it
at the time. And at the time in the New York Times, but ultimately it didn’t work. A similar attempt occurred after 9/11, when the Patriot Act was passed, there was a clause that was referred to as
the library clause. In which again, the FBI and other government agencies were
seeking to obtain information regarding access by the Chinese and other hostile powers to open source significant technological information. Again, the reaction was hardly cooperative. It seems almost absurd, but there were signs being put in the library to warn patrons that their access may be subject to government review. So rather than cooperate, it was just the
opposite. The librarians were essentially warning off
potential patrons who could be identified. So it’s a tricky … it’s a balancing act, we want to be- Well, I was going to say, because I can kind of understand that fear, because in going after, China takes advantage of the open source information, but essentially the free and open access information
in the United States. So if the government tries to stop that, it’s almost like they’re trying to stop free and open access to information, which is at the core … is one of the cores of our society. Right. It’s a core value. And I would argue that we want to maintain
openness. We want to maintain our liberties. That’s what makes this country almost unique among other countries is our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the privacy rights, which we enjoy. Albeit, some would argue, I would argue that many of the Bill of Rights
provisions of being chipped away now, unfortunately. But we do want to continue to enjoy them best
we can. And so it’s a balancing act. To what extent do we maintain openness and at the same time protect national security. And I think a lot has to involve ethical behavior by our counter intelligence services and our intelligence gathering services and regulations legislation, which is designed or tailored to safeguard
our country. And at the same time, safeguard our liberties. So what are some of the ways the FBI is trying to counter Chinese espionage operations? Or is that too classified? I mean, I think the best way to address that is to just refer to the FBI’s techniques
in general to counter the intelligence activities of
hostile countries. And I would suggest that they’re not country-specific
necessarily. So the techniques that the Bureau uses are
… to fight Soviet, or not Soviet, to fight Russian intelligence activities or Cuban intelligence activities or Chinese
intelligence activities, are essentially … in the unclassified sense, are pretty much the same techniques. There may be, depending on the techniques being used by the hostile power, they may be fine tuning so that they are adapted to that particular country. But overall it’s not like it’s a whole different
bag of tricks for each different country. For example, I worked a number of cases and they’re discussed in some of the chapters
in my book as an undercover agent, I worked false flag
operations. Now, false flag operations are directed against any number of hostile type of intelligence
activities. And they’re not country-specific. And the way a false flag operation works essentially is just to briefly summarize, because I don’t think that this is popular, known to a large extent, is when an individual is identified who wants
to sell or transfer classified information to another country’s intelligence service. So it could be to China, to the Chinese intelligence, it could be to Russian intelligence, but they’re trying to sell it. So the individuals identified, let’s say he is a nuclear engineer at a facility that does research, that does classified research or perhaps an Army Colonel who has access to classified military intelligence. Then he or she reaches out through some tech, perhaps let’s say to a friend, do you know anyone in X capital of X country who might be interested in buying this information? And the source then instead of going to someone
in that country comes to the FBI and says, “Hey, do you know that professor so-and-so or Colonel so-and-so, or engineer so-and-so is seeking to sell secrets to whoever.” And then the espionage unit at FBI headquarters would then reach out to me and say, “Marc, we need you to reach out to this individual.” And we very quickly set up an operation where I would pretend to be an intelligence
officer working on behalf of that country. Now, depending on the country, I could say that I’m either from that country or if it’s obviously I’m not from that country- Like China. Yeah, right. But I could be working for the intelligence service of another country
on behalf as a proxy, on behalf of China or wherever. And then it’s a hostile operating environment
here so they can’t send somebody out. But they’ve asked my country to send out someone
in their stead, and I’m … you are so important and stroking
the individual, you are so important that they’ve sent me, a very high level intelligence officer in
my country, to make contact with you and establish a relationship. And these cases were very sensitive because, and they needed someone who by this point I had a lot of experience doing this kind
of work, because the first contact was critical. If the individual, the future trader didn’t believe that I was who I was claiming to be, that would be the end. It would be shut down. There’d be no second chance, no second bite at the apple. So these were, but once they bit, then we would develop a whole clandestine
system for them to transfer information to me. It was something, again, straight out of a John Le Carre or Tom Clancy
type thing with dead drops and whatever to make them feel they were really working
in clandestine activity. And then they would transfer, we would pay them, they would transfer … that’s what they wanted, was money, it was not ideological, but often most of the time there was money
being paid. And then once they were believing they were transferring information to a hostile
power. It’s actually us who’s collecting it. And then at the end of the day, the handcuffs come on and usually lengthy
prison terms. Well, so what is the Chinese Communist Party’s
ultimate goal with these influence operations in the United
States? Well, again, now you’re calling for speculation
as to what, what … I think that when there’s an attempt to influence an outcome of an election, whether through finances, financial contributions or whatever. Presumably, it’s being done for a reason. I mean, large quantities of money are not
going to be spent unless there’s some gain, there’s some advantage that is expected to
be obtained as a result of that. So yeah, I would suggest, I mean, again and
again it’s speculation and opinion, but that they’re seeking to obtain advantages
and leverage in order to expand whatever goals that their central committee has established, be it economic or otherwise. Thanks again for joining me today. It’s a pleasure having you on. My pleasure.

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