Several soldiers told USA TODAY that suspected Chinese spies, who disguised themselves as tourists, tried to infiltrate Alaskan military bases.
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Chinese citizens posing as tourists but suspected of being spies have made several attempts in recent years to gain access to military facilities in this vast state studded with sensitive bases, according to U.S. officials.
In one incident, a vehicle with Chinese citizens blew past a security checkpoint at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, several soldiers told USA TODAY. The vehicle was eventually stopped, and a search found a drone inside the vehicle. The occupants claimed they were tourists who had gotten lost.
Many of the encounters have been chalked up to innocent mistakes by foreign visitors intent on viewing the northern lights and other attractions in Alaska, officials say. Other attempts to enter U.S. military bases, however, seem to be probes to learn about U.S. military capabilities in Alaska, according to multiple soldiers familiar with the incidents but who were not authorized to speak publicly about them.
Not all who appear to be tourists in Alaska, are, in fact tourists, one Army officer said. Instead, they are foreign spies.
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Details about the incidents remain mostly classified. However, military briefings and publicly available information lay out why the Chinese government would be interested in Alaska where some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated military capabilities and high-end war games reside.
The Pentagon’s No. 2 official, Kathleen Hicks, demurred when asked to comment on suspected Chinese spying at military facilities in Alaska. She said the military is taking a number of steps to make sure those bases are secure but she gave no specifics.
FBI and Justice Department involvement
The FBI and Department of Justice take over cases from the military involving suspected spies.
FBI Director Christopher Wray regularly sounds alarms about Chinese government-sponsored espionage, blaming Communist leaders there, not its citizens or Chinese Americans.
Wray has estimated that the FBI opens a new investigation on Chinese-government sponsored espionage every 12 hours.
“There is no doubt that the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s ideas, our economic security and our national security is that posed by the Chinese communist government,” Wray said in a speech in April.
A key concern about instrusions on U.S. military bases may have as much to do about what is left behind than photos taken, said David Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who was the service’s senior officer for intelligence.
Spies could leave behind sensors that could pick up sensitive communications, according to Deptula, who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Belgium has released the Iranian spy chief, Assadollah Assadi, who was charged in a Paris bomb plot, as part of a prisoner swap for aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.