There are certainly more than a few Chinese military, intelligence and cyber-warfare high panjandrums with some egg foo young on their collective faces this week. A video clip of a leading Chinese general discussing sensitive espionage cases has now found its way onto YouTube. This would appear to represent a significant failure of conference management as well as the Chinese version of Internet security by a military establishment that usually follows their version of the famous Sicilian pledge of “omerta.” By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
It is not – yet – clear when or where Chinese Major General Jin Yinan made his comments on this vidclip and the Chinese defense ministry did not respond to questions reporters had faxed to it about Jin’s statements. Not surprisingly, General Jin’s direct employers – the National Defense University – didn’t pick up the phone and say “Ni-homa” to anybody either.
Although a general shape of some of the cases in Jin’s lecture had been known earlier, others had been totally secret until the moment when everyone could watch them on YouTube.
Included in Jin’s lecture was the story of China’s former ambassador to South Korea, Li Bin, who had been sentenced to seven years for corruption. Jin said that while Li had actually been passing secrets to South Korea that compromised China’s position in the North Korean nuclear disarmament talks, that charge was so embarrassing, the authorities ended up charging him with graft and corruption instead. Jin is seen saying on the YouTube clip, “In all the world, what nation’s ambassador serves as another country’s spy?”
Similarly, the former head of China’s nuclear power program, Kang Rixin, ended up receiving a life sentence in the big house last November on corruption charges. In fact, however, he had been guilty of selling secrets about China’s civilian nuclear program to a foreign nation that Jin chose not to identify in his speech. Even more embarrassingly, Kang had been a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and he was part of its disciplinary arm as well. According to Jin, that meant Kang was one of the highest-ranking officials ever to be involved in spying, something that sent a deep shudder through the party leadership. “The party center was extremely nervous. They ordered top-to-bottom inspections and spared no individual,” Jin says.
Jin also talked about Tong Daning, a social security fund senior manager who was executed five years ago after he was convicted of spying for Taiwan because he had passed information about China’s currency regime on to the Taiwanese. This gave them a chance to head off foreign exchange losses – and maybe make a bit as well.
Watch Major General Jin Yinan’s performance on YouTube (in Chinese):
Jin also says on the clip that Col. Xu Junping, a military officer who defected to the US a decade ago, did not give up any technical secrets. Xu, however, had given the Americans some real insider knowledge about the People’s Liberation Army leaderships’ personalities, attitudes and habits. Intelligence analysts will explain that information like that is sometimes as valuable – or even more so – that the specifics of military troop dispositions or their weaponry. The latter is, increasingly, obtainable through technical means like communications and cyber-intercepts, as well as via satellite imaging.
Besides YouTube, Jin’s video was also posted on Chinese websites. Although it was quickly removed from most of those locations, reporters later found screen shots, audio files and transcripts of Jin’s remarks on sites like Sina Weibo’s popular microblogging service.
Jin’s presentation was complete with explanatory slides and analysts say it is typical of how cases like this are discussed at private sessions. They serve as a warning to Communist Party cadres not to be lured into espionage or corruption by those perfidious folks from competing intelligence services. This video seems to be a copy of the official recording rather than something that was surreptitiously filmed by an audience member with his upscale cell phone or digital recorder.
While revealing information on spies isn’t specifically illegal in China, per se, Chinese censors clearly would have been less than pleased with Jin’s statement that at least some Chinese officials have “no confidence” in the future. This connects with the government’s concerns about the number of Chinese officials leaving the country or silently dropping out of membership in the Chinese Communist Party. The AFP, for example, had noted two years ago that over 4,000 Chinese officials had left the country, taking around $50 billion with them as they left.
Some months earlier, this writer had been asked on a South African television news – commentary show about whether developments like Wikileaks’ disclosure of thousands of US diplomatic secrets represented a “the death of secrecy”. At that time, I had commented we could only really answer that question when we could read about North Korean nuclear secrets on the Internet. Well, maybe we’re not quite at that point just yet, but certainly an opportunity to see a Chinese general discussing sensitive espionage cases with his colleagues at an official meeting from the comfort of your home computer – as long as you have a Chinese interpreter handy – seems to be something of a big step in that direction, now doesn’t it? DM
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