The Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday questioned a navy service member in connection with the alleged theft of classified data from a frigate, including secret correspondences and technical information on the vessel’s electronic warfare capabilities.
The suspect, identified as a petty officer surnamed Hung (洪), 40, could face charges, including treason, according to provisions of the Criminal Code, the National Security Act (國家安全法) and the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法), the office said.
The severity of the alleged security breach at what is supposed to be one of the most well-guarded places on a warship raises troubling questions about the navy’s security practices, it added, calling the incident “unthinkable.”
Photo: Wang Min-wei, Taipei Times
Hung served as an information technology engineer from July 2011 to June 30 supporting the Kang Ding-class frigate Cheng De of the Republic of China Navy’s 124th Fleet, the office said.
In January last year, Hung allegedly entered the ship’s operations room and transferred classified data from a military hard drive to a 50 gigabyte thumb drive, which took three hours, the office said.
Hung was not authorized to enter the room, which by procedure should have been guarded by naval personnel or locked, the office said, adding that the person on duty, a sailor surnamed Lee (李), has been named a key witness in the case.
Hung allegedly took the thumb drive to his then-residence in Kaohsiung’s Sanmin District (三民), the office said.
One year later, another district prosecutors’ office, which was conducting a separate investigation into forgery allegations, discovered the thumb drive at the residence.
The sensitive nature of the data prompted the Kaohsiung office to launch a new inquiry, the Kaohsiung office said.
Kaohsiung District Prosecutor Lee Chin-wen (李靜文) and other investigators last month searched the Cheng De when it was docked for refueling and resupply in Kaohsiung, it said.
On Friday, the Kaohsiung office summoned and interviewed 12 naval personnel, including Hung, while executing search warrants at the Zuoying naval base — where Hung is posted — and the Hung family residence in Chiayi County.
After questioning, Hung was released later in the day after posting bail of NT$50,000.
Prosecutors are determining whether Hung gave the stolen information to other parties, the office said.
Other naval personnel who have been interviewed by prosecutors, including the frigate’s captain, a lieutenant commander surnamed Song (宋), are considered witnesses for now, it said.
Hung’s personal life and financial transactions are under review and prosecutors are aware that he got divorced last year, has borrowed money from colleagues and travels to Japan frequently, the office said.
The Navy Command Headquarters issued a statement acknowledging the incident, but offered an account that at points diverges from that of the Kaohsiung office.
The navy does not believe the ship’s systems were compromised and it did not find any sensitive software or passcodes in the thumb drive, it said, describing the stolen programs as having “no effect on systems security.”
The military laptop and the software in question could not access Cheng De’s systems without being connected to a security device and a port, and additionally the ship’s satellite communication system was replaced in 2016, it said.
The navy is fully cooperating with the investigation and would improve security measures and security awareness training, it added.
Additional reporting by CNA
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