China has gone a bit spy mad of late: telling citizens to be wary of foreigners and offering huge rewards for information leading to the capture of secret agents (see WiC365). But, if the New York Times is to be believed, China’s security forces are doing fine without the public’s help.
The paper reported last month that between 2010 and 2012 China uncovered a network of CIA informants working deep inside its own government. The informants were then killed or sent to prison, crippling Washington’s ability to gather intelligence.
The paper interviewed 10 current and former officials and concluded that it appeared to be an inside job – that the Chinese had discovered the identities of the informants by recruiting a member of the CIA.
Yet as much as this was good news for China the media and netizens could not believe it. Why was an American newspaper of record so publicly reporting such a setback for its own country, which happened five years ago? This had to be a smokescreen, many opined, or a trick to get China to let its guard down.
Debate on the issue was also clouded by the fact the New York Times is blocked in China, so many people could not read the original article. State media dutifully suggested the report could be untrue but concluded that if it was accurate then it was a “great victory for China”.
The Global Times also said that one element of the story had to be untrue: a detail about a government informant being shot in front of his colleagues to send them a warning. “That is purely a fabricated story, most likely a piece of American-style imagination based on ideology,” it said.
Some netizens also marvelled at the American ability to recruit people inside the government. One angry weibo user wrote: “If they worked for the government that must mean they are Chinese! These aren’t just spies they are traitors.”
“So that’s why the government has been so concerned with spies lately!” wrote another.
Others recognised that spying is a two-way game.“I hope our spies in the US aren’t uncovered as easily,” quipped one.
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