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US SIGINT Facility Penetrated by China

When it comes to keeping an ear out for military and intelligence developments in China, there are few places in the world more important than the Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center. This makes today's Washington Times story by Bill Gertz so disturbing:

China's intelligence service gained access to a secret National Security Agency listening post in Hawaii through a Chinese-language translation service, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The spy penetration was discovered several years ago as part of a major counterintelligence probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) that revealed an extensive program by China's spy service to steal codes and other electronic intelligence secrets, and to recruit military and civilian personnel with access to them.

. . . China's Ministry of State Security, the main civilian spy service, carried out the operations by setting up a Chinese translation service in Hawaii that represented itself as a U.S.-origin company . . . The ruse led to classified contracts with the Navy and NSA to translate some of the hundreds of thousands of intercepted communications gathered by NSA's network of listening posts, aircraft and ships.

Native Chinese speakers tend to occupy the top tier linguist positions in intelligence agencies; correcting and/or refining the work of those with lesser expertise. Over time a cadre of compromised ethnic Chinese linguists could significantly negatively impact on our understanding of Chinese activities and intentions.

Your author has talked about our counterintelligence problems before, but this case, with its apparent broad and deep penetration of an entire facility, stands alone amongst recent Chinese espionage cases. This is in effect an attempt to nullify an entire intelligence discipline and render this nation dumb to what many consider a near-peer adversary. China, you might recall, recently demonstrated it has real Star Wars-like capabilities. No matter where you fall out on the China-as-enemy/-friend spectrum you have to agree: having no reliable idea about what any nation is saying is generally a poor state if awareness.

Assuming a high degree of accuracy in what has been revealed so far, this is one collection and analysis capability that is close to being “combat ineffective” in the intelligence war. If congress is going to hold hearings on intelligence matters, it would do well to back-burner the political theater that is the CIA interrogation tape case and query the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the National Security Agency, and the Director of Naval Intelligence about what appears to be a fantastic intelligence fiasco.