May 14, 2007

Does Our Own Military Understand We're at War?

Hatched by Sachi

Speaking of loose lips sinking ships...

In recent months, several disturbing security breaches occured involving the United States Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF -- the Japanese "navy"); these cases appear to be deliberate acts of espionage on the part of Red China, rather than the foolish mistakes by blabbermouthed Pentagon staffers I talked about in my last post. In both cases, sensitive information was believed headed for China and may or may not have been intercepted before getting there.

  • Last Thursday, a naturalized, Chinese-born electrical engineer, Chi Mak, was convicted of spying for China.

This one hits close to home, because I once had a naturalized, Chinese-born co-worker who had a position of access to classified material and who acted very peculiarly. He disappeared from the job one day, and we never found out why; management seemed very tight-lipped. But we all wondered...

A Chinese American engineer was found guilty Thursday of conspiring to send information about U.S. Navy technology to China that would make it easier to detect U.S. submarines.

Chi Mak, a naturalized citizen, was convicted of conspiracy to violate export control laws, attempting to violate export control laws, acting as an unregistered agent of the People's Republic of China, and lying to the FBI.

Mak was a very long-term, deep cover agent who began his espionage career in the 1960s, moving to Hong Kong -- then still controlled by the British -- to make it appear he was not connected to Red China.

The next two cases both involve Japanese sailors with Chinese wives or girlfriends who have a peculiar interest in highly classified American military hardware:

  • According to Japan Times, on March 29th 2007, several floppy disks which contain secret sensor data were found in the house of a Japanese petty officer second class (PO2) who has a Chinese wife.

This is even creepier, because I have, in the past, been responsible for handling disks and tapes used to record classified data:

Kanagawa Prefectural Police found floppy disks containing data on the Aegis destroyer's radar system and transmission frequencies in the home of a Maritime Self-Defense Force sailor during a probe of his Chinese wife on suspicion of violating the immigration law, investigative sources said Friday.

When I read this, my first thought was, who gave him access to the disks? Here, at least, non-commissioned officers are not allowed to handle such data media; only the technician (usually civilian) doing the recording and the engineers who analyze the data are supposed to touch the disks or tapes.

Clearly, in this Japanese navy case, one of two things happened: Either the person in charge of the disks was an accomplice, or else he was incredibly careless handling highly classified material.

The unnamed MSDF petty officer is also suspected of having taken home data on other destroyer radar systems that may have been provided by someone higher in the MSDF....

As the petty officer second class is not in a position that gives him access to Aegis data, police suspect another MSDF member gave him the information, the sources said. [Yes, but deliberately or stupidly?]

Since I work in a similar environment with sensitive data, I know how such material can be stolen if those charged with handling such disks or tapes are careless... or worse, if they're part of the gang.

And didn't anybody notice the disks were missing? Or did he make copies? The latter would be much more serious, because it would show a clear intent to deceive. Unfortunately, we're not given answers to many questions that arise.

Finally, from the same Japan Times story is this throwaway line:

  • "In August, police found another MSDF sailor had copied data on foreign submarines from an MSDF base onto a compact disc and brought it home. He also made trips to Shanghai to visit a Chinese woman who worked in a karaoke bar he frequented."

I don't at all blame the People's Republic of China for stealing American technology (from us or from our allies): Although we're not exactly enemies, as we were with the Soviet Union, they are still a Communist country. And they are, at the least, strategic competitors. Since I'm happy that we spy on China and North Korea (and I think we should do more spying), I can't complain about them spying on us.

What is disturbing is how many American and allied military personnel are willing to cooperate with Chinese spies -- usually for trivial rewards: for sex or for small amounts of money; most traitors make only a few tens of thousands of dollars for betraying their country.

But the most astonishing point is that simple, off-the-shelf technology -- in use in the private sector for as long as I can remember -- can prevent much of these kinds of theft from happening; but few military bases or ships bother to use it!

When a disk or tape is finished recording, whether on a ship on at a military base, it is supposed to be logged by the person in charge of the physical recording; if at that point, it were immediately slipped into a "drop safe" -- a safe with a one-way slot for inserting materials -- then theft or copying could only occur with the connivance either of the recording operator, who is responsible for dropping the media into the safe, or of a single designated person who is the only one with the combination to the safe.

Whenever an analyst needs to work with the materials, he would have to get that designated person to open the safe and log the fact that so-and-so checked out the data; but when the analyst finishes, he himself can put it back using the drop slot.

Drop safes can easily be purchased from any safe manufacturer; restaurants and retail stores have used them for decades to secure excess cash. Anybody who has worked retail probably knows about them. While a drop safe is not a "magic bullet" against espionage, but it's a simple solution that can make it much, much harder for unauthorized personnel to get hold of such sensitive data.

The fact that such a cheap and obvious security measure has never occurred to the Navy points to a problem that is much more serious than a few Chinese agents running around loose: the complete lack of security consciousness found in so many American and allied military bases. I get the impression that many base commanders in our own services -- and even more so base commanders in allied countries -- don't truly understand that we're at war.

I see this lack of security consciousness all the time: security guards not checking employee ID cards, airport security "screeners" too busy chatting to notice suspicous item on the screen, and unlogged classified data tapes and disks carelessly tossed in a box with no real clue how many there are (making it nearly impossible to tell if one is missing).

Unknown people knock on doors of secure buildings and are let in by "helpful" employees who don't know them from Adam. Passwords that are never changed from the day they were issued -- or worse, passwords changed to something "easy to remember," like the user's name, birthdate, and so forth. Each of these lapses can be prevented by civilian management or military commanders who themselves take security seriously... you know, like were at war or something.

We must be vigilant in guarding our secrets; if they are stolen, the fault is not with the enemy agent... he is only acting as a patriot for his own country. And while the moral guilt may reside with the PO2 who took the classified data home to his Red Chinese wife -- what about that "someone higher" in the military food chain who either intentionally handed over classified military data... or at the very least, left it lying around where it could be grabbed?

Security consciousness applies not only here but in any other country which purchases American technology or cooperates with us in security operations. It can be especially difficult for a country like Japan, which has not seen a real war for over 60 years, to understand the concept. But what is the U.S. Navy's excuse?

Hatched by Sachi on this day, May 14, 2007, at the time of 4:38 PM

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Comments

The following hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist

Dear Sachi,

I too am familiar with security operations. I was in the U.S. Army Security Agency from 1961 to 1963. The title of my clearance is still classified "Confidential Codeword, not subject to automatic downgrade".

Security is always a tradeoff between protecting sensitive information and operational effectiveness. We are aware of notable failures in this regard including the Rosenberg/Greenglass case, the Walker family and most recently the conviction of a Chinese immigrant who was passing information about submarine propulsion systems. There are a number of notorious cases that I have not listed. I am sure that there have been many other instance that we are not aware of.

Bottom line, we nor any other state in history has been totally immune to espionage.

Regards,
Roy Lofqist
Titusville, Florida

The above hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2007 9:51 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Excellent review. We are at war and not at war. This is like a terrible 5 year version of WWII's phony war.
Historians will puzzle over this and pick on it for decades.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2007 11:25 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

"Strategic competitors" is nicely concise, and goes to the heart of what our relats with CHina are becoming. It's probably different in China, though, and is China spying on us for reasons different than any conception of competition: I think they spy reflexively, and because the Red Army still believes in old-style conquest dogma. "Might is right".

Chinese government and society may have seen the light and be finally be leaping forward, after all those falied years, but the old ways are by no means gone. What once was, active confrontation, could easily be again.

Until China has become Singaporean in it's totalitarianism, I say we should regard Chinese spying with exactly the same severity we regard the Jihadist casing of buildings and schools. The FBI is incompetent at a staggering level, and should have had these responsibilities removed when it was politically possible to do so.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2007 11:26 AM

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