Sun, Sep 19, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Officials pull spy team from US

LIE-DETECTOR TESTS After days of silence, the security bureau defended friendly exchanges of information as normal in international intelligence

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former secret agent Cheng Nien-tsu, right, yesterday discusses with a neighbor the accusations against Donald Keyser, a former US State Department official, of having passed diplomatically sensitive information to Taiwanese contacts.

PHOTO: CHEN TZEH-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

A senior government official confirmed yesterday that the Na-tional Security Bureau (NSB) has taken urgent damage control measures after the media exposed the Donald Keyser inci-dent, saying that among other measures the agency had recalled crucial intelligence agents from the US.

But the official stressed that the incident will not substantially affect the Taiwan-US relationship and that speculation that the incident was sparked by infighting within the US intelligence system was incorrect.

"The media, both in the US and Taiwan, have tried to sensationalize the issue by suggesting a sexual motive, a possible financial scandal and even an internal struggle or Chinese conspiracy," the official told the Taipei Times.

"We regard it as an isolated incident but are certainly aware that the NSB's intelligence efforts in the US have to be rearranged; especially the entire team in the US must be reorganized," the official said.

He stressed that from a certain point of view, the case showed the success of Taiwan's intelligence work, but conceded that it also displayed that some agents were too eager for success.

"Intelligence exchanges between the US and other countries, including China, Russia and Israel, take place every day," said the official. "This case is just the same."

"The two Taiwanese agents who made contact with Keyser are not the only channels in the Taiwan-US intelligence net," said the official. "The action by the FBI may be a message that the US government expects Taiwan to exercise proper restraint over its intelligence agents."

Former US State Department deputy assistant secretary Keyser has been arrested by the FBI for illegally handing over documents to Taiwanese intelligence agents. To prevent this kind of incident from happening again, National Security Bureau Chief Hsueh Shih-ming (薛石民) has immediately recalled senior special agents from the US and other countries to attend a meeting to discuss how to maintain domestic national security while conducting intelligence work overseas. He also said that on returning to Taiwan they would be required to undergo further vetting and lie detector tests.

Hsueh also had discussed the development of Keyser's case with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as well as the National Security Council's secretary-general, Chiou I-jen (邱義仁).

NSB sources revealed that when Hsueh visited the US recently to conduct an exchange with senior State Department officials on security cooperation in order to guarantee security for Chen during his trip to Central America, and to receive a briefing from US-based special agent Huang Kuang-hsun (黃光勳), he knew absolutely nothing about the FBI's close attention to Keyser, much less that Keyser would be arrested just four days after leaving his senior government position.

"When the Keyser incident became known, Hsueh immediately called a special meeting, recalled special agents and reported to the president on how the bureau was dealing with the matter," the sources said.

Having not foreseen that the incident would be widely covered by the US media, which could affect future developments, the National Security Bureau is now attempting to limit the damage.

After two days of silence, the bureau released a press release on Friday evening emphasizing that as far as Taiwan is concerned, the US is a friendly country and that bureau staff in the US are there to understand, using open methods, the impressions of Taiwan held by intelligence agencies, the US government and the US people.

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