Coverage of China’s rise in North American media can be pretty lame (basic facts + vague fearmongering is too often the formula du jour) but there is one terrific thing that the “rising China” media narrative has wrought and that is a growing number of juicy spy scandals.
A quick economic rise, a pile of mutually suspicious alliances and rapidly changing technologies is a formula now revealing an outrageous cast of characters that make great reading for any conoisseur of human folly.
1. The Honeypots. Seems that both China and Taiwan are taking cues from James Bond films and making use of beautiful women to get the goods, even, as one article hints, creating “spy academies” for the purposes of training them. If you’re a deputy mayor of London (“I fell for the oldest trick in the book”) or a corrupt PRC official with a fondness for the ladies, better watch out for that girl buying you a shot of baijiu.
(Could spreading these stories be an effective way to discourage officials from taking so many mistresses?)
2. The Hackers: This group is shrouded in mystery still. Google claims China’s hackers were the straw that broke their backs in China and there has been yet another kerfuffle and spate of finger-pointing over this recently.
Accusers tend to pinpoint the Chinese government, but these could simply be a bunch of young geeks having fun sticking it to Uncle Sam. How embarassing would it be for the U.S. government to launch some type of action only to find that their targets were a bunch of pimply, albeit genius, 20-year-olds in a university basement?
3. The Naive Americans: From Foreign Service Officers who have never seen the inside of a Chinese home to a 22-year-old American student, Glenn Shriver, who agreed to try and join the CIA and was paid $30,000 by a Chinese agents to “keep his spirits up” after he failed the entrance exam twice.
(Thanks to his case, I have learned never to trust anyone who introduces themselves to me by offering me $120 for my thoughts on U.S.-Taiwan relations).
I feel that there are some excellent screenplays in all of this, or at least a good campy spy novel.
I would love to see a book that puts all these threads together and describes the state of the Chinese intelligence apparatus, but I can’t fathom the writer who could get that kind of access. Maybe I’ll need to wait sixty or seventy years or so, as was the case for Frederick Wakeman Jr.’s excellent Spymaster, which covers Chiang Kai-shek’s secret service.