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‘Tiger Trap’: 21st Century Espionage

Posted on Jun 30, 2011

By John Pomfret

This review of “Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War With China” is from a syndication service of The Washington Post.

On Dec. 16, 2005, federal judge Florence Marie Cooper sentenced a Chinese American woman to three years’ probation, 200 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine for lying to the FBI. “I love America” was Katrina Leung’s reply.

Leung’s reaction made sense. By all accounts, her case constituted the most sensational example ever of the penetration of the FBI by Chinese intelligence. And all she got was a rap on the knuckles.
For decades during the Cold War, the most captivating spy-vs.-spy battle was the one waged between Moscow and Washington. With the rise of China, a new player has entered the game. These days, it seems, not a month goes by without an intelligence case involving alleged Chinese spies stealing American industrial secrets, or reports that China tried to pay an American to join the CIA, or Chinese hackers (perhaps from the government) breaking into the Gmail accounts of U.S. officials and human rights activists. Move over U.S.S.R., China is America’s espionage enemy No. 1.


book cover


Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War With China


By David Wise


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages


Buy the book

But, as David Wise concludes in his new book, “Tiger Trap,” the federal agencies arrayed to protect the United States have handled the threat with astounding incompetence.
The author of best-sellers on spies and counterspies, Wise is a master of page-turning nonfiction, and from that perspective “Tiger Trap” doesn’t disappoint. His book paints a sobering, sometimes pathetic picture of American law enforcement and counterintelligence forces that appear woefully incapable of coping with the challenge from China. Some of the cases Wise details seem right out of the Keystone Kops.
Wise concludes that over the past 30 years, China’s spies have learned an enormous amount about what he calls the most advanced weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the W88, a powerful warhead so small that several can be placed on one missile. Wise reports that details about the W88 significantly hastened the modernization of China’s own strategic forces. Chinese spies also have burrowed deep into the FBI’s counterintelligence operations and might have uncovered U.S. attempts to bug then-President Jiang Zemin’s private aircraft in 2001.
A half-dozen espionage cases lie at the heart of “Tiger Trap.” Wise turns his gaze most sharply on the investigation of Leung, a Chinese American who rose to prominence in Southern California with the help of $1.7 million in payments from the FBI. Leung was run as a source for more than a decade by FBI special agent J.J. Smith, a famed counterintelligence officer in Los Angeles. First problem: She became his lover and the lover of another FBI agent, Bill Cleveland, who battled Chinese spies in San Francisco. Second problem: While collecting information about China for the Americans, Leung was also working for the Ministry of State Security in Beijing as a double agent.
Leung did provide some useful intelligence to the FBI. But according to Wise, she also pilfered classified information from Smith’s briefcase after trysts in his San Marino home and passed it to her spymasters in Beijing. The FBI got to the bottom of the Leung case in 2003 after sending in one of its best investigators. But the case fell apart in court when federal prosecutors engaged in what Judge Cooper called “willful and deliberate misconduct.”

To see long excerpts from “Tiger Trap” at Google Books, click here.

Wise has written an important book about the spy-vs.-spy games that are guaranteed to capture the imagination of the next generation of espionage aficionados. One can only hope someday to hear the Chinese side of the tale.

John Pomfret, a diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, is writing a book about the United States and China.

(c) 2011, Washington Post Book World Service / Washington Post Writers Group

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By Timothy Gawne, July 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment
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These are all interesting points, but the Chinese are playing a different game
from the old Soviet Union.

The Chinese are not so much ‘spying’, as simply bribing the high officials of the
United States to give them what they want.  What the United States needs is not
a more efficient counterintelligence service, but a less corrupt set of elites.

The United States is not just shipping the plans for advanced technology to
China; it is shipping the entire industries!  So it’s not just that China will gain in
capability, but the United States will lose it as well. 

Recall how Henry Kissinger got on the payroll of the Chinese government then
lobbied for free-trade deals even in the highest technology.  And one wonders
how much information that “Kissinger and Associates” sold the Chinese could
only have been acquired from government service at the highest levels?  In less
enlightened times we would have called this treason…

The problem is not China.  The problem is the United States.

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By johnnyfarout, July 2, 2011 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

The first thing that came to mind in this ludicrous idea of ‘competing’ with the Chinese is that in America the local governments can’t even be kept up and running without money brained reactionaries shutting them down. It is telling they complain and want their governments to be run like they run businesses, which as seen from the number of business failures and bankruptcies due to health care failures, or successes, as the case may be, they have in mind only the largest businesses… the ones large enough that they are like governments, to succeed. Even attempting to make life at least a smidgeon secure for most people is seen as counter-evolutionary, and these are people who don’t believe in evolution! These reactionaries are even attempting to close down the smooth operating of the federal government they are elected members of…reactionaries to the core! Their only concern is to keep the military an open commerce market for their corporations. How can Americans possibly think they have a chance of ‘competing’ with the Chinese; who do not shut down their government just because they can. Do the reactionaries in America actually think they can come from behind at any time and it is okay to shoot themselves, like this, in the foot, because it is a challenge to run with a limp: I’ve got news, what doesn’t kill you does not make you stronger, but leaves you as weak as a kitten.

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By Cliff Carson, July 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment

I noticed that in another thread some of the commenters on Truthdig insinuated that the Chinese are too backward and too non-innovative to be the equal of the U S or India for that matter.

For those who don’t read very much.

The most powerful and fastest Computer on Earth was recently developed by the Chinese.  They are planning their manned Mars space expedition as you read this using technology they developed .

Anyone who thinks the Chinese are not the equal of the U S needs to pray that our warmongers don’t let their mouth overload their hinney.

This is what I fear most about our War monger Economy.  Flushed with success of kicking the hell out of powerful Nations like Panama, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, some day they might decide to attack China forgetting that it isn’t Panama.

Or another Scenario possibly our Friends in Empire might goad us into fighting their fight for them.

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By PatrickHenry, July 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm Link to this comment

I read recently where the ‘cheap’ computer chips the U.S. defense contractors buy from China have a kill switch built into them.

I wonder how many are installed in our multi-million dollar weapon systems we dont know about?  How about our infrastructure?

Until now I thought only the Israelis were this sneaky.

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By Aarky, July 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Watch out Mr. Pomfret, the FBI is one of the many US agencies who don’t like their stupidity and ineptitude revealed. Get ready for the grand jury summons.
The Chinese didn’t have to work hard to get our industrial trade secrets. The US businesses gave them everything along with orders for the US design, but China manufactured product. The Chinese built the product as ordered for eight hours and the second shift made the same product but with a Chinese name. It sells for five dollars less in the US and the US company goes belly up in five years or sooner. So much for that sly American capitalist.

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By Cliff Carson, July 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

Excellent story.

Who would like to know who the other top five threats to America are?  Nope, its not who you think, and I really don’t know, but I’ll bet that Israel is in the top five.

China is the fastest growing Economy in the world and Russia is sitting on more energy reserves than the rest of the World combined.

Can you imagine the threat if China and Russia decided it was their time as a combined force to rule the world?

We have ravaged the rest of the Third World countries and bombed the hell out of them, do you think they would join us or the USSR/China block?

We are up to our chins in a tidal basin and the tide is coming in.  What should we do next?

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