Return to

November 26, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S.-China joint spying
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair is visiting Beijing this week to take part in a secret ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of two U.S. electronic eavesdropping posts in western China.

The Cold War listening posts were aimed at the Soviet Union and now spy on Russia, and they represented the most substantive yet secret sign of the strategic gambit launched during the Nixon administration of using the so-called "China card" to counter the Soviets.

The eavesdropping posts are located in remote western Xinjiang province near the towns of Qitai and Korla, and they remain a closely held electronic spying program.

The New York Times first disclosed the existence of the two listening posts in June 1981, reporting that they had been set up under a 1979 agreement and opened in 1980. The facilities focused their electronic sensors on Soviet missile tests carried out from bases at Leninsk, near the Aral Sea, and at Sary-Shagan, near Lake Balkhash.

The posts also were promoted by then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and now vice president, as needed for verifying compliance with Soviet-U.S. arms control treaties.

The joint spying program includes China's military intelligence section, which agreed to provide personnel for the sites, along with some CIA technicians, as part of the 1979 agreement. The agreement called for total secrecy about the operation.

Despite decades of CIA involvement, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta did not attend the Beijing ceremony. A CIA spokesman declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing travel by the director. A DNI spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Local press reports from India and Pakistan said Mr. Panetta was visiting those countries.

The listening posts helped replace electronic listening posts aimed northward from Iran that were lost after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

A former intelligence official familiar with the program said the Chinese posts in recent years have been largely symbolic because they cost tens of millions of dollars to maintain and produce little in the way of strategic intelligence. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continued sensitivity of the program.

Some in Congress have questioned the utility of funding the posts after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, U.S. intelligence officials have defended the program as a positive sign of Chinese military and intelligence cooperation in an otherwise contentious relationship.

START verification fight
The Obama administration is opposing legislation pending in the Senate that would continue arms control verification inspections under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is set to expire Dec. 5.

"Our focus in Geneva is to complete negotiations on a START follow-on treaty by early December," a State Department official told Inside the Ring.

"Given that likely scenario, we have told Sen. [Richard G.] Lugar that we do not think legislative action is needed," the official said speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of pending negotiations. Mr. Lugar, Indiana Republican, introduced the legislation earlier this month and stated that it is needed to continue verification for current and future treaties.

Michael McFaul, the National Security Council staff director for Russia, told reporters in Singapore on Nov. 16 that U.S. negotiators are working with Russia on a temporary "bridging agreement" - an executive agreement that would not require Senate ratification - to the current START that is expected to be concluded by Dec. 5.

Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Mr. Lugar, declined to comment on the State Department opposition. He referred to Mr. Lugar's Senate floor statement on the need for the legislation.

Mr. McFaul said it is not clear that a new arms agreement will be finished by Dec. 5 but "what I do know for sure is that we won't have a ratified treaty in place by December 5th."

"That has to go through our Senate, through their Duma," he said. "So that is for sure; we do need a bridging agreement no matter what."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Nov. 20 passed new legislation sponsored by Mr. Lugar and four other senators that would prevent the expulsion of Russian arms inspectors from the United States and U.S. inspectors from Russia when START expires.

Mr. Lugar said in his Senate floor remarks Nov. 5 that the legislation is needed to close a "verification gap," or lack of funded and authorized arms inspections and data exchanges that will exist from the end of the START I treaty until a new treaty is ratified.

The other existing strategic-arms agreement between Washington and Moscow is the 2003 Moscow Treaty, which contains no verification provisions.

The Bush administration had seven years to close the START gap but was unable to do so, Mr. Lugar said.

"My bill is not a substitute for a treaty," Mr. Lugar said. "But without it, it is unclear how we can permit, and by extension carry out, any inspection activities. This might not appear troubling to some. But allowing a break in verification activities is not in the interest of the United States or Russia. Such a break could amplify suspicions or even complicate the conclusion of the START successor agreement."

A State Department fact sheet from July stated that U.S. inspectors carried out more than 600 arms inspections in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan under START, while Russia has done more than 400 arms inspections in the Untied States.

"These intrusive, on-site inspections permit the United States to verify the kinds and types of Russian weapons being deployed, as well as to examine modified versions of Russia's weapons," Mr. Lugar said. "It is this ability, in addition to our own national technical means, that gives us the capabilities and confidence to ensure effective verification of the treaty "

Mr. Lugar said START verification provisions must be kept because they have proved effective and serve as a basis for building confidence on arms control. "The bottom line is that the United States is far safer as a result of those 600 START inspections than we would be without them," he said.

The legislation, which awaits further Senate action, gives the president authority to allow Russian officials to conduct inspections and continuous monitoring of arms sites in the United States after Dec. 5.

The authority is granted provided the Russian officials obey U.S. laws, do not interfere in U.S. internal affairs and do "not to engage in any professional or commercial activity for personal profit," the legislation states.

Thanksgiving message
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday sent out the annual Thanksgiving holiday message to all defense and military personnel, honoring American troops around the world.

"This time of year calls on Americans to reflect on and give thanks for the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy," Mr. Gates said. "Of course, we can only do so because of those who put their lives on the line every day: the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who bear repeated deployments, hardships, and danger - without fail and without complaint.

Mr. Gates praised the many dedicated personnel who "made the ultimate sacrifice."

"Our nation will always honor their memory," he said. "For the loved ones of the fallen, I offer my deepest sympathies and prayers for your loss. And, in the wake of the shootings at Fort Hood, know that I am committed to ensuring that our home bases are safe and secure."

For service members' families, Mr. Gates said, "know that the American people are indebted to you for the sacrifices of your husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters."

After nearly three years at the Pentagon, Mr. Gates said that "nothing has impressed me as much as the determination, resilience and good humor of those who defend our nation."

"This holiday season, along with 'Happy Thanksgiving,' 'Happy Hanukkah,' and 'Merry Christmas,' I would add two words on behalf of millions of your countrymen: 'Thank you.' "

Chinese space espionage
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's annual report for 2009 highlights China's aggressive espionage and intelligence-collection activities, including two cases in which China illegally obtained U.S. space technology.

Disclosure of the Chinese space spying comes as President Obama, in a joint statement with Chinese President Hu Jintao, recently called for greater cooperation in space.

The China commission report states that "China is the most aggressive country conducting espionage against the United States, focusing on obtaining U.S. information and technologies beneficial to China's military modernization and economic development."

A Chinese Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment, but embassy spokesman Wang Baodong earlier dismissed the report's spying charges as "baseless."

The commission report reveals two cases of industrial espionage by China that boosted Beijing's space program.

The first involved Quan-Sheng Shu, owner of a company called AMAC International Inc. in Newport News, Va., who worked as a contractor for the Energy Department and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Shu pleaded guilty in November 2008 to violating the Arms Export Control Act and bribing Chinese officials. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison.

Shu illegally exported to China a cryogenic fueling system for space-launch vehicles and technical data for a liquid hydrogen tank and cryogenic equipment.

"The items exported by Shu were intended to assist in the design and development of a cryogenic fueling system for space launch vehicles to be used at a heavy payload launch facility located on the southern island province of Hainan, PRC," the report says.

The facility at Hainan is "affiliated with the PLA and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology and is expected to be a launch site for space stations and satellites, manned space flights, and future lunar missions."

The second case involved an purported export to China's space program by Jian Wei Ding and Kok Tong Lim, both of the company FirmSpace Limited, a Singapore-based import-export firm. An indictment also named Ping Cheng, a New York resident and sole shareholder of FirmSpace. The three men were indicted in federal court in Minnesota last year for a plan to sell carbon fiber material, with applications in aircraft, rockets, spacecraft, and uranium enrichment, to the China Academy of Space Technology. The case is pending.

NASA spokesman Michael Braukus said details about the reference to increasing U.S.-China joint space cooperation in the statement issued after the Beijing summit are still being worked out, including possible exchange visits by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden and China's space agency director focusing on joint human space flight work.

So far, U.S.-China cooperation has been limited to two working groups that were set up in 2007, he said, and there has been little progress.

The Bush administration curtailed space cooperation with China after China's January 2007 anti-satellite missile test that created a large field of orbiting space debris that threatens both unmanned satellites and manned spacecraft.

Return to