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China busts massive spy ring

Publication Date : 06-05-2014


China has sentenced a snack-bar owner from Guangdong province to 10 years' jail for sending military secrets overseas.

Forty others in more than 20 provincial regions are also involved in possibly the country's biggest espionage ring in recent years.

The convict surnamed Li, 41, was recruited online by a foreign spy who had posed as a woman and enticed him with money to forward domestic military publications available only within China and deemed classified material, according to state media.

The overseas edition of the People's Daily, mouthpiece for the Communist Party, reported on Sunday night that the foreign spy, who goes by the moniker "Feige", or Flying Brother in Chinese, had used military enthusiast websites since 2007 to recruit 40 people, in addition to 12 in Guangdong.

There were few other details, such as Feige's nationality and the countries involved, the date and location that Li was tried and convicted, and the status of other suspects involved in the case.

The People's Daily said Li began working in an unnamed southern coastal city in 2000 and was contacted in 2011 through the QQ instant-messaging service by a female user who showed him concern and became his confidante.

"After a month, the female netizen told Li that he was actually a man named Feige and paid Li to subscribe to a large number of military publications available only to professionals in China," it added.

Li, from Shantou city, also conducted regular surveillance of unnamed military camps, sending overseas large numbers of photographs of military deployment and equipment that caused "severe threats" to national military security.

In all, Li was convicted of disclosing 13 highly classified documents, the second-highest level of secrecy, and 10 classified documents, the lowest of China's three-tiered military secret ranking system.

According to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) secrecy regulations, military secrets refer to matters directly concerning national defence and military interests, such as defence capability and operational details.

The expose follows recent moves by China to better protect military secrets even though the PLA is already seen as one of the world's most opaque armies.

A report by the PLA Daily on April 23 said the Central Military Commission issued a statement approved by President Xi Jinping calling for tightened military secrecy amid an "austere and complicated" situation.

The document urged Chinese military personnel to "always remain sober-minded and to spare no effort to keep secrets safe", and also called for steps to fix loopholes in the management of documents as well as secret sites and activities.

Beijing-based military commentator Wu Ge told The Straits Times that military secrecy is an extremely grey area in China.

Referring to Li's case, he said: "It is hard to argue that military publications which the public, including foreigners, can borrow at libraries are secrets. The PLA has also often used enthusiasts to leak photos of new military equipment or deployment."

Wu also thinks it is possible Li's case was aimed at bolstering Xi's objective of deepening military secrecy and, in turn, his powerbase in the PLA.

"Secrecy is a tool to strengthen one's control over the military, by suppressing information and taking to task those who do not observe the rules," he added.


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