By Wendell Minnick
Taiwan Espionage Scandals Spell Trouble for Air Defense
TAIPEI — A recent spate of arrests of Taiwan military officials accused of working for China has raised concerns over the vulnerability of Taiwan’s air defense and early warning capabilities, and calls into question whether Taiwan can safeguard sensitive U.S. military technology.
A recently retired Taiwan military intelligence official said the arrests indicate China
is focusing on Taiwan’s new Po Sheng C4ISR modernization effort, the Anyu-4 air
defense system and surveillance radar program (SRP).
“It’s consistently Po Sheng and air defense stuff,” he said. “Sounds like China thinks
these are Taiwan’s most potent defense, not Army tanks and Navy ships and Air Force
In February, military investigators arrested a Taiwan Air Force captain surnamed Chiang, an information control officer (IOC) assigned to an air defense base in northern Taiwan. The “most interesting thing” about the incident, the retired military intelligence officer said, is that China targeted an IOC who had access to the computer systems linking all of the air defense systems.
“Po Sheng and PAC [Patriot Advanced Capability missile system] and other air defense
assets are probably the most-linked system, and the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has pretty powerful hackers,” he said.
An IOC could have given them the keys to break into the network using cyber intrusion
“They can’t hack tanks and ships, but they can try to hack the air defense system, and
getting information about the inside networks of the air defense system is the best
way to do it,” the retired officer said.
To make matters worse, in January 2011, Maj. Gen. Lo Hsien-che was arrested and later sentenced to life for spying for China. Lo ran the communications, electronics and information division of Army Command Headquarters.
He was accused of providing China with information on Po Sheng, data on a fiber-optic communications cable network and procedures for sharing information with U.S. Pacific Command. Lo was the highest ranking military official to be arrested since the Cold War.
In August 2011, a Taiwan High Court found a civilian, Lai Kun-chieh, guilty of spying
for China after attempting to recruit a Taiwan Army officer, surnamed Tsao, who
had access to the PAC system. After the attempted recruitment, Tsao went to his superiors and worked with investigators until Lai’s arrest in May 2011.
According to court documents, Li Xu, deputy department chief of the Taiwan Affairs
Office under China’s State Council, recruited Lai.
Further confirmation China is focusing on Taiwan’s Po Sheng and air defense networks
came in 2008 when U.S. authorities arrested Gregg Bergersen, a senior official for the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, for allegedly spying for China. Bergersen managed Taiwan’s Po Sheng program under the Foreign Military Sales program and managed negotiations with Taiwan on the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement, which allows the U.S. to release Type 1 cryptography techniques for U.S.-Taiwan communications during a war.
Over the past 10 years, Taiwan has been upgrading a variety of air defense and early warning systems. In 2004, the U.S. released an $800 million long-range ultra-high-frequency early warning SRP to detect ballistic and air-breathing threats. The radar was scheduled to go online in 2009, but mudslides and technical problems have caused delays.
Once the SRP sounds the initial warning, the new Anyu-4 air defense system would task the proper air defense missile units to respond. Taiwan has a choice of I-Hawk, PAC-3, and Tien Kung (Sky Bow) air defense missile batteries for medium- to long-range requirements.
Anyu-4 replaced four older air defense control and reporting centers with new Regional Operations Control Centers (ROCCs). In 2001, the U.S. released the sale of ROCCs and mobile and fixed radar systems for an undisclosed amount. Additional items, including the Program Automated Air Defense System, were released in 2005.
Some officials have linked the recent series of arrests to growing cross-strait economic and political ties, suggesting the Taiwan military views reunification as inevitable and therefore has lowered expectations of a stable military career and pension.
“A potential spy in Taiwan’s military may think: If the retired two-, three-, four-star generals can go to China and receive VIP treatment, banquets, golf, [then] is China really the enemy?” the retired military official said.
“The Taiwan military is really confused,” he said. “They’ve practiced against one enemy for the past 60 years; now that enemy appears to be gone, and political leaders seem to bet everything on China becoming our friend.”
Can Taiwan Keep a Secret?
The increase in arrests since cross-strait ties began improving after Ma Ying-jeou was elected as Taiwan’s president in 2008 have also raised concerns Taiwan is losing its ability to protect secrets.
Taiwan has increased efforts to monitor espionage activities as ties become stronger, said Liu Fu-kuo, a cross-strait specialist at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University.
“I certainly know that the new situation across the [Strait of Taiwan] has made it easier to spot. ... I guess that Beijing will surely continue [espionage] activities and our side is making the extra effort to clean up the mess,” Liu said.
Another fear in some defense circles in Taipei is that Washington will stop selling Taiwan sensitive military technology if the equipment cannot be safeguarded.
“Perhaps Taiwan’s political leadership doesn’t mind where this trend is going, but
the military guys should know that soon they won’t be able to buy anything from anywhere, maybe except from China,” said a Taiwan defense analyst based in Taipei.