Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration was a “dark decade” for Taiwan’s intelligence war with China, and Chinese espionage operations against Taiwan discovered over the past 10 years were likely just “the tip of the iceberg,” a US analyst on Chinese intelligence operations wrote recently.
Taiwan’s intelligence and counterintelligence failures damaged the nation’s “reputation and sowed doubt about its integrity,” Peter Mattis, a Jamestown Foundation fellow and former US government analyst, said in an article entitled “Spy Games in Taiwan Strait: Taipei’s Unenviable Espionage Problem” in the Global Taiwan Brief, which is published by the Global Taiwan Institute.
Since 2006, more than 40 Taiwanese have been held on charges of assisting Chinese espionage, including retired and active military personnel and businesspeople, he said.
“One might interpret these events as indicating that Taiwanese counterintelligence performed well in capturing so many spies, but it more likely reflects the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the relentless pressure applied by China’s intelligence operations in Taiwan,” he said.
He said that of greatest concern to intelligence-gathering efforts was the information leaked by Chen Shu-lung (陳蜀龍), a retired major who worked at the Ministry of National Defense’s Military Intelligence Bureau and was recruited by Chinese intelligence operatives in 2006, whose conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2014.
Mattis said authorities are concerned that information leaked by Chen could help the Chinese government uncover and possibility recruit Taiwanese spies operating in China.
Mattis said other compromised military officers include Ko Cheng-sheng (柯政盛), a retired navy vice admiral who was found guilty of passing classified material to China; former army general Lo Hsien-che (羅賢哲), whose conviction of spying for China was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012; and retired major general Hsu Nai-chuan (許乃權), who was convicted of obtaining and passing classified information to China after being recruited by former Chinese People’s Liberation Army intelligence officer Zhen Xiaojiang (鎮小江).
The Supreme Court in July upheld a four-year prison term for Zhen in a final ruling over what has been called the biggest Chinese spy ring to have operated in Taiwan in recent years.
Taiwan’s own espionage activities were also hurt by the arrest of Military Intelligence Bureau colonels Chu Kung-hsun (朱恭訓) and Hsu Chang-kuo (徐章國), who were kidnapped in Vietnam and taken to China in 2006, Mattis said.
Mattis suggested that while the decrease in the amount of Chinese spy activity this year might be due to the increased sophistication of Chinese spies, it might also be due to Taiwanese, whom he argued are increasingly uninterested in close ties with China.
An increase in independence-leaning sentiment is resulting in fewer recruitment opportunities for Chinese intelligence-gathering efforts, he said.
In the past, Taiwanese traitors were young military officers recruited as spies by Chinese contacts within the military, or were recently retired high-ranking officers.
Mattis said that China will most likely not end its espionage activities in Taiwan, adding that President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration must have reliable counterintelligence measures in place to gain the confidence of the nation’s allies.
Mattis said the Tsai administration will need to be particularly vigilant, researching high-risk areas of national intelligence and making improvements to security before the nation can gain the confidence of close allies like the US.
Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said that the Tsai administration has already taken measures to evaluate the national intelligence security situation and has established mechanisms to oversee security improvements.
Huang said that aside from improving the integration and supervision of intelligence reporting among various government agencies, the government has improved contingency plans to meet with challenges as they occur, adding that there is an emphasis on nontraditional methods of evaluating and defending against national intelligence threats.
National Chengchi University Institute of International Relations director Arthur Ding (丁樹範) said that defending a free and open society such as Taiwan’s against foreign agents is a challenging task.
The military needs to reinforce a security-focused mindset and anti-espionage indoctrination, because any individual traveling to China who is frustrated with their career or in financial trouble could be targeted by Chinese intelligence agents, Ding said.
However, the military’s counterintelligence arm has limited personnel, and it might be advisable for the military to imitate police tactics and establish a net of informants within the armed services for counterintelligence purposes, provided it exercises vigilance against false reports by jealous or vindictive informants through a robust corroboration and verification process, Ding said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) blamed Ma for past intelligence failures, saying: “While the Ma administration facilitated cross-strait exchanges, it also left the nation vulnerable by failing to upgrade military facilities and state secrets protections in response to the increasing frequency of those exchanges.”
Lawmakers plan to amend the Act of Military Service for Officers and Noncommissioned Officers of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍軍官士官服役條例) to punish military personnel who leak national secrets by depriving them of pensions, he added.
New Power Party Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said that leaks and Chinese infiltration of Taiwan might have jeopardized the cooperative relationship with the US, and called on the Tsai administration to improve military information security and bolster the defenses of the nation’s research and development organization against espionage.
Chinese citizens who apply for tourist visas should be screened for discrepancies between their stated purpose of visit and their actual activities while in the nation, and Taiwan must change its policy of having “no defenses” against espionage, he added.
Additional reporting by Aaron Tu and Chung Li-hua
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