FBI's record of policing itself against China's spies is abysmal, new book SpyFail reveals

The news is full of tut-tutting about the terribleness of President Trump, and now Joe Biden, supposedly mishandling a few classified documents by having them in their possession, which is usually a matter of them wanting to write their memoirs, so far as we know.

Now a new book came out yesterday by James Bamford, called SpyFail, telling us how little care the FBI has taken with its own classified documents.  Its clumsy maneuvers, bad personnel hiring practices, and misplaced priorities pretty well gave away the store of U.S. secrets targeting China.

According to BusinessInsider, which ran a long and interesting book excerpt by Bamford himself:

The FBI's website carries a stark warning. "The counterintelligence and economic espionage efforts emanating from the government of China," it says, "are a grave threat to the economic well-being and democratic values of the United States. Confronting this threat is the FBI's top counterintelligence priority." But far worse is the threat to the lives of scores of courageous Chinese agents who have volunteered to spy for the U.S. within their own country. Over the past decade, more than a dozen agents recruited by the CIA have been killed or imprisoned.

And it now turns out that it was an alleged Chinese spy within the FBI's own counterintelligence division who may have been largely responsible. A spy whose activities went undetected for upwards of two decades, until his quiet arrest in 2020. Currently in a Hawaiian jail, his little-known case is wrapped in layers of secrecy as he awaits trail. Now in his new book, "SPYFAIL: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs and the Collapse of America's Counterintelligence," author James Bamford peels back many of those hidden layers.

Wow.  A spy was permitted to get on the inside at the FBI and went undetected for 20 years, despite repeated red flags described in the piece. 

According to Bamford, two brothers, one a sitting CIA officer and the other an ex-CIA officer, both of Chinese extraction, and both of who had spent years spying on behalf of the U.S. against China, managed to cross over to the Beijing side for cash in 2001 after the elder brother ran into post-employment financial problems:  

For three days, beginning on March 24, 2001, Alex and David allegedly met secretly in a hotel room with at least five officials from China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) and passed on highly classified information. According to government charges, details included the covers used by CIA officers and CIA activities in China; cryptographic information used in classified and sensitive CIA communications and reports; information concerning CIA officer identities as well as those of CIA human assets in China; the CIA's use of operational tradecraft; and CIA secure communications practices — that is, covcom details. The brothers were then handed $50,000 in cash.

Afterward, as laid out in the indictment, both Alex and David returned to California, but they kept in touch with their handlers. Alex eventually agreed to become a mole for China's intelligence service within the FBI, and on the day after Christmas 2002, he applied for the position of special agent. By then, however, he was about forty-nine years old and was informed that he was over the age limit.

But in 2004 he was nevertheless hired as a Chinese translator since he spoke several Chinese dialects. In many ways, this was an even better position for a spy since he would have access to a very broad range of information, including intercepted Chinese conversations. The day before he started his new job, he called a suspected accomplice, possibly David, to give him the good news that he would now be working full-time for "the other side."

According to Bamford, he now had two agencies to keep the Chicoms apprised of, given his knowledge of the CIA earlier as well as his ongoing insider knowledge of the FBI:

Over at least the next six years and possibly much longer, he took over the role of FBI mole where Robert Hanssen, who spied for Russia for more than two decades, left off, except for a different spymaster. It was as though no lessons had ever been learned by the bureau.

The method was simple. Attracting no suspicion, Ma [Alex] would gather up piles of highly secret materials and simply walk out the door with them, just as Hanssen had done for decades. Some he photographed with a digital camera, others he downloaded from his computer onto a flash drive, while still others he copied onto CD-ROM discs. Some dealt with guided missiles and weapon systems, and others revealed the identity of confidential sources, putting their lives at risk.

In addition to not setting up safeguards in the wake of Hanssen's betrayal, the warning signs about Alex were all over the place.  Customs caught him carrying $20,000 in cash on a return back from China, but no red flags were raised at the FBI.  He flew back and forth to China with nobody asking questions.  His wife sometimes flew there, too, taking "presents" for the Chicoms.  His older brother David helped Alex identify Chinese and Chinese-American exiles working for the bureau and other U.S. agencies as a wokester identity-politics grievance-group activist in Los Angeles.  A wokester bureau of course, would have no suspicions with how the Chicoms would use that.

A third spy named Lee came onboard the Chicom express indirectly from the CIA as a disgruntled agent.  He left the agency and got a job with Japan Tobacco Incorporated (JTI) in Hong Kong, and right away, the corporate team noticed the spy problems — that he seemed to be tipping off Chinese officials about JTI's anti-counterfeiting activities — and they reported that to the FBI, which inexplicably took no action. 

All evidence pointed toward Lee, and as a result, executives at JTI alerted the FBI, but apparently no action was ever taken. Lee was finally fired in mid- 2009, and soon afterward a Chinese official warned the company that he was not only continuing to share information with MSS [China spy agency] officers, but was also actively working with them. And once again JTI officials passed the information to the FBI. "I certainly reported it to the appropriate authorities," said a company supervisor. It was good information, but once again it seemed to go nowhere within the bureau.

How many warnings did they need about these guys?  Quite a few, which is why it took so long to hose them out.

Now we move to the present day, where we learn how the World Economic Forum and the Chicom propaganda machine seem to have a mutual love-fest, China is shoveling cash to NGOs to promote the banning of gas stoves in the states, and the national security establishment is puffing away about the dread awfulness of President Trump having a classified document in his possession — a serious enough offense to trigger a full SWAT team–style FBI raid, complete with overturned furniture, rifled clothing drawers, a jaunt through Melania Trump's underwear drawer to paw through her panties, and a raid on President Trump's minor son's bedroom.

Sound a little funny in light of all the missed signals from these three Chinese spies described by Bamford above?  Where the heck were their priorities? 

It gets worse when we think of how many resources the FBI spent on policing ordinary Americans' tweets on foreign counterintelligence grounds, as the Twitter Files reported, with the FBI bringing 80 agents into this Lives of Others–style content moderation operation amid "suggestions" to Twitter to ban the thousands of low-traffic accounts on the grounds of foreign "disinformation." 

The FBI forked over $3 million to Twitter for its "assistance" in the China-style censorship, which included shutting down the New York Post for its Hunter Biden laptop revelations, while it ignored the live presence of Chinese and maybe other spies in its own midst, which may mean they still have plenty of them.  We do know that the bureau hasn't announced anything on a report from inside Twitter from a whistleblower about Chinese agents at that company.  I wrote about that here.

But they were happy to censor Americans, and happy to raid Trump's house on the misappropriation (not the actual sale, which happened in its own house) of classified documents since they supposedly care so much about them.

Sound serious?

You've never seen so much huffing and puffing, in fact, despite the fact that Trump was explicitly allowed to declassify documents, and the number of documents in Joe Biden's possession, at least they found ones so far, were few.  So much is overclassified; so many crummy contractors have security clearances that it's hard to think that the foofaraw is more than just the Deep State puffing itself up as the holder of the keys to the kingdom with power to imprison those who fail to keep the overclassified secrets.

It's strange stuff, too, given that former CIA director John Deutsche certainly mishandled classified documents, as did former CIA director David Petraeus, while former national security adviser Sandy Berger actually lifted and carried away classified documents stuffed in his clothing.  Let's not even get into Hillary Clinton's massive exposure of U.S. secrets stored on a private server in some guy's bathroom.  None of these miscreants suffered significant consequences.

Yet President Trump was actually raided by the FBI over that supposedly serious issue, while the FBI itself failed to police its own operation and probably still is failing.  How many classified documents got into enemy hands because of that one?

Things like this make one wonder what the FBI is doing with its time, given that it can't police itself.  Why does the U.S. keep so many secrets?  If they can't keep the ones they have and they target only the people they don't like for mishandling them, what is this classified secrets thing really about?

Congress has recently sent up a China threat committee to hold hearings on China's adversarial activities in the U.S.  Maybe the FBI, which mishandled its own China secrets to the point of giving away the store, should be the first witness to answer those questions. 

Image: Lorie Shaull, via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0.

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