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Summertime and the Spying is Easy
This Green and Surprisingly Pleasant Land - espionage
The great news for the Chinese dictatorship is that bargain basement opportunities abound in recruiting hapless foreigners to spy for Beijing.
The UK police have been investigating two individuals who are suspected of being Chinese agents. Both had access to the parliamentary estate and contact with prominent politicians. It is also being reported that two potential Conservative parliamentary candidates, suspected of collaboration with China, caught the attention of the security services who warned the Tories not to adopt them.
This may be merely the tip of the iceberg because Beijing’s espionage activities are evidently extensive. And we can thank LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for becoming the tool of choice for Chinese spooks searching for greedy and hapless fools.
Reports of the widespread use of LinkedIn have been the subject of newspaper exposés in France and America. More recently The Times has revealed what’s happening in Britain.
The Times report centred around a single Chinese state security official using the name Robin Zhang, among other aliases, via LinkedIn to target Brits working in sensitive areas with access to information Beijing can use for technological, business or, most worryingly, security purposes. (Exposed: the Chinese spy using LinkedIn to hunt UK secrets (thetimes.co.uk)
Seeing that tech giant Microsoft is aiding and abetting this operation was a cue for a predictable (and justified) outpouring of rage against this great monolith. Facebook has also been used for the same purposes and recently removed 7,700 accounts belonging to Chinese spooks.
However it should not be forgotten that the work of the Chinese spy network is only effective if individuals cooperate. Targeted individuals engaged in politically and commercially sensitive work should have their antenna actually tuned to approaches of this kind and most of them do. But a minority are susceptible to flattery, motivated by greed or arrogant to the extent that they believe they are being approached for nothing more than their personal genius. So while loath to give Microsoft any sort of pass, let’s allocate prime responsibility where it belongs.
Sometimes those taking the bait are offered impressive cash rewards but at other times less so, little more than all expenses paid trips to the People’s Paradise.
What is surprising is not that so many people see these approaches for what they are but the number of suckers who do not.
In the bad old days of the Soviet Union many people became spies out of ideological conviction. Only the seriously weak minded are likely to be ideologically persuaded by a regime infamous for genocidal behaviour in East Turkmenistan and for its highly visible destruction of liberty in Hong Kong. The difference between the Soviet era and today’s Communist dictatorship in China is simply that communications have vastly improved, eliminating the necessity of waiting for the regime’s collapse before the full gory details become known.
Yet in Britain, but not exclusively here, Chinese gold packs a big punch. Why were members of parliament suborned by Beijing’s agent, the solicitor Christine Lee? She, incidentally, is still at liberty despite a MI5 security alert. And why have the very grandest British universities allowed China to plant Confucius Institutes on their campuses and given them free rein to engage in soft power propaganda for the regime?
In fact Britain is riddled with examples of Beijing’s malign influence on our institutions. The Cameron government was even contemplating giving a Chinese company a key role in Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure. Meanwhile official bodies and government departments, not least in Whitehall, have handed over the bulk of their surveillance cameras to a couple of Chinese controlled entities.
China hoovers up data and surveillance material like a Dyson vacuum on steroids. The excuse is that the universities are poor and need Chinese funding and that government departments are similarly poor and therefore resort to cheaper Chinese surveillance systems. But the full price of opening the door for the Chinese state to have a good poke around in the UK’s entrails, has yet to be paid in full.
Having lived with an ominous awareness of Chinese state surveillance before I legged it out of Hong Kong in 2021, I used to joke that anyone digging into my emails and electronic messaging would die of boredom before coming across anything of the slightest interest. It was the kind of gallows’ humour needed to remain sane while the benign world I once knew collapsed around me.
Even I, a technological incompetent, quickly learned how to take counter measures. So imagine how shocked I was on returning to Britain to find such a casual attitude being adopted towards cyber security and indeed the whole business of keeping the country safe from the intervention of very bad players.
The Chinese dictatorship is serious about suborning citizens of foreign countries. This activity requires a serious response; anything less is a disgrace. And yet aside from occasional British bleating, the government cannot bring itself to directly address this problem. The hard men in Beijing know weakness when they see it and were clearly delighted to have had their instincts confirmed during the recent kowtowing visit to Beijing by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
Idiots of the week
As evidence mounts of alleged sexual assaults by the television star Russell Brand it is not that surprising that he has been gathering support from the likes of Elon Musk and the alleged serial rapist Andrew Tate but what about the idiots who cheered him last week at a sellout event in the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre? Surely this should have been a moment for keeping very quiet, but then again here was a group of people who had actually handed over good money to see the no longer funny conspiracy theorist Brand.