Cross Strait

Caught in a tailspin

Trouble in Taiwan after top-secret helicopter tour

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When not in an Apache helicopter

In the 1983 film War Games Matthew Broderick plays a computer geek who changes a girl’s biology grade from an F to an A in a bid to impress her. The junior-high hacker soon finds himself in much bigger trouble after stumbling into the Pentagon’s computer system.

A high-flying Taiwanese officer has also got himself into an unmanageable mess after going to great lengths to impress a lady.

Lieutenant Colonel Lao Nai-cheng, deputy head of a helicopter squadron, made headlines after offering to show a TV hostess around a high-security military base. Lao took celebrity Janet Lee (along with her family, friends and a pet dog) on a tour of a hangar housing Apache choppers without seeking approval from his superiors. Lee, who seems to have been impressed, took plenty of photos and posted them on Facebook. Some showed her sitting in the cockpit, with a clear view of the chopper’s flight instruments.

The exposure provoked an angry response from the public. Worse, it was revealed that it might not have been the first time that officer Lao arranged tours of restricted areas for civilians, while Taiwan’s Apple Daily also ran a front-page photo of the 40 year-old wearing an Apache flight helmet as a Halloween costume.

The still-brewing scandal has forced Lee, Lao’s father (a retired general) and the defence minister to apologise publicly. The Taiwanese military also issued a statement, admitting that the incident transgressed regulations and promising to punish the relevant personnel for the security breach.

The Apache choppers have long been a delicate topic in cross-straits relations. Taiwan has taken delivery of all 30 of the helicopters it purchased from the US two years ago, despite mainland China’s continued protests. The models captured in Lee’s photographs are the latest in the Apache series, it seems, and Taiwan is one of the rare recipients of the hardware.

“There’s a reason Taiwan’s military has imposed very strict rules on people visiting the Apaches and that’s because the helicopters contained very sensitive military secrets… However, this seemingly impenetrable secret is now broken, like a poke through paper,” says China News Net.

However, Tai Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper based in Hong Kong, says that what has really hurt Taiwanese military pride is not the leaked photos but the apallingly lax discipline of a supposedly elite combat troop.

Perhaps that is also why China’s proudly patriotic Global Times opted for schadenfreude in reporting the story, insisting that such a controversy could never happen in China.

“Caring for our military equipment has been a long-standing tradition in the People’s Liberation Army. In fact, a song in the navy goes like this: ‘love and protect our warship just like how we love and protect our eyes,’” the newspaper quoted a PLA officer as saying.

Really? In fact, the Chinese military is rather worried about security breaches of its own, with Jiefangjun Bao (meaning PLA News in Chinese) reporting that the army’s top brass has grown increasingly concerned about people tracking the updates of the wives of army officers on WeChat, the hugely popular messaging app of Tencent.

The article says that the housewives and girlfriends often leak secrets about the PLA unknowingly when they share information and pictures about their spouses.

A special unit has now been set up to prevent further information from being disclosed, the newspaper reports.

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