Fresh reporting in The Wall Street Journal has reviewed and presented a series of instances which are being dubbed low-level Chinese intelligence collection efforts, often involving Chinese nationals posing as tourists who attempt to gain access to military bases in the US, sometimes in bizarre and forceful ways.
US officials have tracked a dramatic increase in these incidents, citing that they’ve occurred as many as 100 times in recent years. These episodes have also been called ‘grate-crashing’ incidents.
“The Defense Department, FBI and other agencies held a review last year to try to limit these incidents, which involve people whom officials have dubbed gate-crashers because of their attempts—either by accident or intentionally—to get onto U.S. military bases and other installations without proper authorization,” the WSJ wrote.
Documenting some of the more interesting examples, the report said, “They range from Chinese nationals found crossing into a U.S. missile range in New Mexico to what appeared to be scuba divers swimming in murky waters near a U.S. government rocket-launch site in Florida.”
The people involved are not likely Chinese intelligence officials themselves, but possibly assets pressed into service by their country while they are in the states. In many cases, the phenomenon appears a low-level and easy attempt at testing security practices at high secure American government installations.
These instances have reportedly come under renewed scrutiny after the Chinese ‘spy balloon’ shootdown incident off the South Carolina coast in early February.
The FBI has said, “The Chinese government is engaged in a broad, diverse campaign of theft and malign influence without regard to laws or international norms that the FBI will not tolerate.” But of course, Beijing has responded by rejecting the “groundless accusations” and “Cold War mentality” which the foreign ministry says has been on display by the US. “The relevant claims are purely ill-intentioned fabrications,” the Chinese embassy in D.C. told the Journal.
According to one example offered in the report:
Officials described incidents in which Chinese nationals say they have a reservation at an on-base hotel. In a recent case, a group of Chinese nationals claiming they were tourists, tried to push past guards at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, saying they had reservations at a commercial hotel on the base. The base is home to the Army’s 11th Airborne Division, which is focused on Arctic warfare.
In numerous other examples, Chinese “tourists” take photos, or even deploy recreational drones, to capture images of sensitive military sites.
Another example US officials described to the WSJ involved Chinese visitors going to White Sands National Park – only to wander onto the neighboring missile testing range and facility. Similar scenarios have even happened at the White House, where Chinese visitors on group tours appeared to have focused their photo-taking on security guard houses and Secret Service guard infrastructure, before being told to leave.
“Chinese nationals, sometimes posing as tourists, have accessed US military bases and other sensitive sites as many as 100 times”
“No cases appear to have resulted in espionage charges.”
“individuals are typically Chinese nationals pressed into service”https://t.co/PUrcVzV3AM
— Jeff M. Smith (@Cold_Peace_) September 4, 2023
In a further example…
In another incident, Chinese nationals appear to have been found scuba diving off Cape Canaveral, home to the Kennedy Space Center. The area is the launch site for spy satellites and other military missions. A spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations’s Tampa, Fla., field office said the incident was part of a continuing investigation and declined to comment further.
They were reportedly taking photos near the launch site, but at the same time there’s some ambiguity and “cover” given they simply claimed they were scuba diving and were engaged in harmless recreation in public waters.
The report says that often the Chinese nationals are only briefly detained and then put on a plane and sent out of the country and back to China early. US officials believe that this is an organized probing effort of the Chinese government and its intelligence services.