Chinese intelligence recruiting private researchers, scientists

A top Estonian scientist working with NATO was sent to prison by an Estonian court for gathering intelligence for China’.

New Delhi: The Chinese intelligence, or the Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China, is now recruiting private researchers, professors and scientists across European countries to gather strategic information for the Chinese.

Among those who have been targeted are researchers with private and government universities who specialize in defence studies and scientists who are working with government and inter-governmental bodies.

Such recruitment activity has taken place in prominent European countries like Germany, Poland and Estonia, an annual report released by the Estonia Internal Security Service (ISS) or KaPo, recently, has revealed.

According to the report, Beijing’s interference in the internal affairs of Estonia by recruiting private individuals is not limited to a theoretical prospect anymore. “For some time now, Beijing’s actions have caused concerns for counterintelligence. The danger is no longer theoretical; it has been confirmed by the first court decision. Chinese intelligence recruited an Estonian citizen,” the report reads.

Last month, a top Estonian scientist, who was working with NATO, was sent to three years in prison by an Estonian court for gathering intelligence for China. This is the first publicly acknowledged case of the Nato being breached by the Chinese.

As per official records, the 58-year-old scientist, Tarmo Kouts, was recruited by the Chinese intelligence in 2018 and he continued sharing critical information till he was arrested by KaPo on 9 September 2020 last year, along with another accomplice whose trial is still going on.

The access to the kind of information that Kouts had can be gauged from the fact that from 2006 to 2014, he was a member of the scientific committee of the Ministry of Defence, Estonia, and from 2006 to 2012, he was working as member of the scientific committee of NATO’s Center for Maritime Research and Experimentation. Estonian officials recovered close to Rs 15 lakh (in INR terms) unaccounted cash from Kouts during his arrest.

The annual report has further warned that researchers across the world should be vigilant about highly paid proposals that they receive from Chinese think-tanks for “research collaboration”, which is how the Chinese intelligence are now recruiting young and old people to carry out intelligence gathering in their respective countries on their behalf.

Even Kouts was approached by Chinese military intelligence officers who presented themselves as employees of a Chinese think-tank. After the initial “hand-shake”, he started meeting Chinese military intelligence representatives in various Asian countries.

Kouts had access to highly classified details of multiple defence projects because of his professional responsibilities which the Chinese reimbursed by arranging for his paid foreign trips, stay in 7-star hotels, apart from cash and other things that pander to “human weakness”, an official said.

The trial of Kouts’ accomplice, a woman who is also from the academic field, is likely to be decided in the coming weeks.

The revelations by KaPo have confirmed that the Chinese intelligence service is now targeting people of diverse backgrounds and not just civil servants.

The report has further claimed that “since 2017, the Chinese government has obliged all its citizens, companies and organizations to cooperate fully with the country’s intelligence agencies if required, and to keep this cooperation secret” and that “If an Estonian company plans to look for cooperation partners in China, the interests of the Chinese state are included in the package.” 



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