China’s civilian spy agency has exposed a Chinese national for allegedly providing sensitive military information to the CIA, the latest in a string of highly public espionage accusations between Washington and Beijing.
In a statement Friday, China’s Ministry of State Security said the suspect, identified by his surname Zeng, worked for an unidentified Chinese military industrial group in a role which gave him access to important classified information.
The ministry said Zeng, 52, was sent by his employer to advance his studies in Italy. While there he was allegedly approached by a US embassy official, and they gradually developed a “close relationship” through activities such as dinner parties, outings and watching operas, according to the statement.
The ministry claimed that as their engagement deepened, the US official revealed himself to be a CIA officer. Zeng was allegedly offered “a huge amount” of money and immigration to the US for his family, in exchange for sensitive information about the Chinese military, the statement said.
It said Zeng signed an espionage agreement with the US and received assessment as well as training.
Upon completing his studies, Zeng returned to China and allegedly met with CIA personnel multiple times to provide “a large amount of core intelligence,” according to the statement.
The ministry said it had taken “compulsory measures” against Zeng after obtaining evidence of his espionage activities in an investigation. The case has been handed to the prosecutors for review and indictment, it added.
China’s announcement about the alleged CIA spy came a week after two US Navy sailors in California were arrested for allegedly providing sensitive US military information to Chinese intelligence officers.
China’s Ministry of State Security is a civilian agency that oversees intelligence and counterintelligence both within China and overseas. Its remit has encouraged analogies to a combined CIA and FBI, but is far more secretive about its work – without even a public website describing its activities.
But recently, the ministry has taken a higher profile. On August 1, it launched a public account on Wechat, China’s super app, calling on “all members of society” to join its fight against espionage and offering rewards and protection for those who provide information.
Friday’s statement about Zeng’s case was also released on the ministry’s Wechat account.
China’s military also has its own intelligence agency.
The United States and China have long spied on each other but the recent deterioration in ties between the world’s two largest economies has supercharged this rivalry.
China’s Communist Party rulers have long pushed the narrative that “foreign forces” are trying to undermine the country’s rise while Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive and authoritarian leader in a generation, has made state security his top priority.
Last month, China introduced a revised version of its already sweeping counter-espionage law, which further expanded the definition of espionage.
CIA operations in China suffered a staggering setback starting in 2010, according to The New York Times, when the Chinese government killed or imprisoned more than a dozen sources over two years.