By Clay Chandler
June 9, 2018

As Donald Trump prepares for an historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore this week (or doesn’t, as the case may be), the U.S. is taking extraordinary precautions to prevent Chinese spies from listening in on what the two leaders say to each other.

CNBC News reports that members of the U.S. delegation participating in the Singapore summit have been instructed to remove batteries from their mobile phones to prevent eavesdropping and presume China has recruited informants among the waiters and other staff at hotels and restaurants. U.S. security personnel will sweep for bugs in rooms throughout the Capella Hotel where the talks will be held and erect special indoor security tents to hide classified documents from hidden cameras.

The heightened security measures in Singapore reflect U.S. fears that, as U.S.-China trade relations deteriorate, China is ramping up espionage operations targeting the United States. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials tell CNBC News that Chinese espionage against the U.S. is “more pervasive than that of any other adversary.”

Among the many recent examples of rising cloak-and-dagger conflict between the two great global powers:

  • The Washington Post reported Friday that Chinese government hackers had compromised the computers of a Navy contractor, stealing a trove of “highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare — including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020.”
  • That same day, a Virginia jury found former CIA case officer Kevin Mallory guilty of espionage and lying to the FBI about his contacts with Chinese intelligence. Prosecutors allege Mallory accepted more than $25,000 in exchange for passing documents containing classified information to his Chinese handlers.
  • On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that it had evacuated two more Americans from China for medical testing amid concerns that U.S. diplomats in the country have been subjected to mysterious “sonic attacks” leading to symptoms similar to those “following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury.”
  • In Seattle last weekend, FBI investigators arrested Ron Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency case officer, on charges of attempting to sell U.S. national security secrets to China. The Justice Department alleges Hansen received more than $800,000 in “funds originating from China” over the last five years.
  • In May, U.S. authorities indicted former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee on charges that he had helped intelligence officials in China identify and destroy a network of U.S. informants in the country.

All this comes as the U.S. and China continue to spar over trade, technology and intellectual property. (In case you missed it, this piece by Bob Davis, Peter Nicholas and Lingling Wei in the Wall Street Journal about how Trump, in ten tumultuous days, vaulted from China Hawk to China Dove, then back to China Hawk again is an absolute must-read.)

Does the proliferation of U.S. media reports about Chinese spying reflect a genuine expansion of China’s espionage activities against America? Or is it a symptom of American paranoia about China’s rise? Undoubtedly it’s a bit of both—and further reason to worry about prospects for the world’s two largest economies to get along.

More China news below. Enjoy the weekend!

Clay Chandler
@claychandler
clay.chandler@timeinc.com

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