Prosecutors called Chi Mak the "perfect sleeper agent," though he hardly looked the part.
For two decades, the bespectacled Chinese-born engineer lived quietly with his wife in a Los Angeles suburb, buying a house and holding a steady job with a U.S. defense contractor, which rewarded him with promotions and a security clearance.
Mak was sentenced last week to 24 1/2 years in prison by a federal judge who described the lengthy term as a warning to China not to "send agents here to steal America's military secrets."
But it may already be too late: According to U.S. intelligence and Justice Department officials, the Mak case represents only a small facet of an intelligence-gathering operation that has long been in place and is growing in size and sophistication.
The Chinese government, in an enterprise that one senior official likened to an "intellectual vacuum cleaner," has deployed a diverse network of professional spies, students, scientists and others to systematically collect U.S. know-how, the officials said.
Some are trained in modern electronic techniques for snooping on wireless computer transactions.
Others, such as Mak, are technical experts who have been in place for years and have blended into their communities.
Posted by Gary, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Apr 3, 2008 at 12:30 pm
When people (on this blog) express a relative lack of concern about the paucity of U.S. born engineers graduating from our universities, they should consider the security implications. H-1 visas and foreign student enrollment in our universities is a wide-open pipeline for espionage.
Posted by Dan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm
For MANY years since the end of the Mao regime - and maybe before- the Chinese government has been paying big money for top Chinese students to attend Stanford for master's and Ph,D, degrees in physics, engineering, computer science, and many other scientific disciplines. I know one who had the total blessing of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the backing of the Office of Naval Research to stay in this country after graduation when he was supposed to go back to China.
(He was such a NICE guy and brilliant too, they said.) Last I heard, he is now head of a department at Stanford in break-through research. Money is hard to find for US-born students but not for the Chinese students who their government makes certain get into top US universities like Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT and Cal Tech with ties to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Cal with connections to Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos.
This HB-1 Visa program is a tragic joke. These people get paid rock bottom salaries,
live six to an apartment, and 'forget to go home'. and price American graduates out of the market. US companies make out like bandits because they don't have to pay prevailing US wages. Talk about "sleeper agents" THEY WALK AMONG US!! -- but Congress has on blinders especially most of the California delegation.
Money is pouring into California real estate from Asia.
Posted by Kevin, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:42 pm
I was taking an engineering course at Stanford in the early seventies (while Mao was still in power). I noticed that Chinese students, from mainland China were there (prior to "ping-pong diplomacy). I thought it was a security threat then. I asked my professor about it, and he agreed, but said his hands were tied by the English department, which basically ran uninversity policy.
Posted by Perspective, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm
Maybe if the scientific literacy of Americans were better, U.S. Universities wouldn't be filled with foreign graduate students. Every survey of American students shows a pitiful lack of even general understanding in scientific topics. The U.S. survives by importing brains and education from overseas. If we stop now, it will be to our own detriment.