China’s civilian spy agency has unmasked a Chinese national for allegedly providing sensitive military information to the CIA, the latest in a series of highly public espionage allegations between Washington and Beijing.
In a statement released Friday, China’s Ministry of State Security said the suspect, identified by his surname Zeng, worked for an unnamed Chinese military industrial group in a role that gave him access to important classified information.
The ministry said the 52-year-old Zeng was sent by his employer to further his studies in Italy.
While he was there, he was allegedly approached by a US embassy official and they gradually developed a “close relationship” through activities such as dinners, outings and seeing operas, according to the statement.
The ministry claimed that as their engagement deepened, the US official revealed himself as a CIA official. Zeng was allegedly offered “a large amount” of money and the chance to immigrate to the United States for his family, in exchange for confidential information about the Chinese military.
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China said Zeng signed an espionage agreement with the US and received advice and training.
Upon completing his studies, Zeng returned to China and allegedly met with CIA personnel multiple times to provide “a large amount of central intelligence,” according to the statement.
The ministry said it had taken “action” against Zeng after obtaining evidence of his spying activities in an investigation. The case has been turned over to prosecutors for review and indictment, he added.
China’s announcement about the suspected CIA spy came a week after two US Marines were arrested in California for allegedly providing classified US military information to Chinese intelligence agents.
China’s Ministry of State Security is a civilian agency that oversees intelligence and counterintelligence both inside and outside of China. His tenure has caused him to be portrayed as some sort of combined CIA and FBI, but he is much more secretive about his work, with not even a public website describing his activities.
However, recently the ministry has acquired a higher profile. On August 1, he launched a public account on China’s Wechat app, calling on “all members of society” to join his fight against spying and offering rewards and protection for those who provide information.
Friday’s statement on Zeng’s case was also posted on the ministry’s Wechat account.
China’s military also has its own intelligence agency.
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Espionage accusations between the US and China
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 intensified this rivalry.
China’s Communist Party rulers have long promoted 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.
China last month introduced a revised version of its already comprehensive counterintelligence law, which further expanded the definition of espionage.
CIA operations in China suffered a staggering setback beginning in 2010, according to The New York Times, when the Chinese government murdered or jailed more than a dozen sources for two years.
In 2021, CNN reported that the agency was reviewing the way it trains and manages its spy network as part of a broad transition to focus more closely on adversaries like China and Russia.