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Mole-in-Training: How China Tried to Infiltrate the CIA
Comments () | Published June 7, 2012

In October 2004, after he got his degree from Grand Valley State, Shriver moved back to Shanghai. There he was approached for a very different kind of job.

He was 22 years old.

China’s Ministry of State Security, (MSS) and a separate agency, the Military Intelligence Department of the People’s Liberation Army (MID) spy on the United States. They have had some successes—obtaining the design of America’s state-of-the-art nuclear warhead, which arms the missiles on the Trident submarines, and details of the neutron bomb.

The agencies have also acquired a wide range of other military secrets, from details about the B-2 bomber and the Navy’s system for making submarines run quietly and be harder to detect to encryption equipment and cruise-missile stealth technology. Chinese hackers have penetrated computers in several government agencies—including the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Sandia nuclear-weapons lab in New Mexico—as well as more mundane targets: The US Chamber of Commerce, Washington’s most powerful business lobby, said this winter that its computers had been penetrated by Chinese hackers to such an extent that the thermostat and a printer in a chamber-owned apartment were communicating with computers in China.

Counterintelligence agents of the FBI have had some success in foiling Chinese espionage operations here. In the past few years, the FBI rolled up a loosely linked group of ten Chinese spies on the West and East coasts, all run by a spymaster in Beijing who calls himself Lin Hong.

“Mr. Wu” and “Mr. Wang” wanted Glenn Shriver to land a job with the US government. If he did, they said, “we can be close friends.”

None of this should be entirely surprising—countries spy on one another, and the US spies on China just as Chinese intelligence does its best to steal secrets in this country. China’s ongoing espionage against the US has paralleled its rise as a global economic power.

During the Cold War, American counterintelligence focused primarily on the Soviet Union. China took a back seat. Far fewer counterspies in the FBI and the CIA were assigned to uncover Chinese intelligence operations.

Back in Shanghai for the third time, Shriver needed more serious employment than beer commercials. He answered an ad in English offering to pay someone with a background in Asian studies to write a paper on US/China relations concerning Taiwan and North Korea. A Chinese woman who said her name was “Amanda” contacted him, met with him, and paid him $120 for the essay he wrote.

The Chinese recruitment dance had begun, as intelligence operations usually do, with a low-key approach.

A few months later, Amanda contacted Shriver again. She told him the paper he wrote was good and asked if he’d like to meet some other people. Shriver agreed, and Amanda introduced him to “Mr. Wu” and “Mr. Tang.”

Shriver realized soon enough that his new companions were intelligence officers.

All three were officers of the MSS, China’s foreign intelligence service headquartered in Beijing. They talked about developing a “friendship” with the young American. They seemed particularly interested in whether he might try to get a job with a US government agency. If he did, they said, “we can be close friends.”

Had he ever thought about working for the State Department or the CIA? “That would be pretty good,” the MSS officers said.

The officers suggested he go ahead and apply to US intelligence or law-enforcement agencies. Shriver agreed.

In April 2005, Shriver took the US Foreign Service exam in Shanghai. He flunked, but the MSS paid him $10,000 for his “friendship.”

The following April, he again took the exam and failed. This time the Chinese paid him $20,000 for trying.

At some point, Shriver began using the code name Du Fei in his communications with China, a play on his middle name, Duffie.

In June 2007, Shriver and his Chinese handlers took aim at a more sensitive target: He completed an online application for the CIA. Specifically, he applied to the National Clandestine Service, the division that conducts covert operations and gathers intelligence overseas.

As the first step in his application, Shriver was told to create an account. “You will have three days to complete and submit your application,” the instructions said. In an echo of Mission: Impossible, the CIA form warned: “At the end of three days, whether you submit your application or not, your account will be disabled!”

The Clandestine Service, the application instructions informed Shriver, “is more than just a job—it’s a way of life.” Operations officers, it said, needed “street sense” and the “ability to cope with stress.” They would live undercover and gain little outside recognition.

The clearance process for applications would involve “a thorough examination of your life history and fitness to safeguard the nation’s secrets. Think of this process as the first step in building a bridge of trust between you and the Agency.” The investigation would examine Shriver’s “character, trustworthiness, honesty” and “freedom from conflicting allegiances.”

Suggesting that Shriver apply to the CIA was a bold move by the MSS. Normally, foreign intelligence agencies try to recruit agents who are already in place inside the bureaucracy. But with “Du Fei,” China was attempting something new—inserting a mole in the CIA from the start.

To have a spy inside America’s intelligence agency from the get-go offered unique opportunities to Beijing. He would likely rise undetected within the ranks of the CIA. In fact, such a mole was every intelligence agency’s dream.

Shriver was well aware that, once accepted by the CIA, he’d be expected to send classified documents back to the MSS, which would continue to pay him.

By now, he had moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for a tattoo-supply company. In September 2007, a few months after applying to the CIA, he secretly flew back to Shanghai for two weeks and met with his handlers. He told the MSS officers that he had applied to the CIA. He asked for and got a payment of $40,000, which meant he had received a total of $70,000 from the Chinese intelligence service. All the payments were in US currency, which he smuggled back into this country.

In China, starting in 2004, Shriver had met with one or more MSS officers some 20 times. In addition, he stayed in contact with Amanda, his principal handler, on an almost monthly basis.

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Posted at 10:35 AM/ET, 06/07/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles