There's a spy scandal brewing in southern California, but it's received little attention, except from reporters like Bill Gertz of the Washington Times.
The case began as a counter-intelligence investigation, and resulted in the arrest of a Chinese-American defense contractor, Chi Mak; his wife, Rebecca Chiu, and his brother, Tai Mak. At the time of their arrest last October, Mak and his relatives were charged with failing to register as Chinese government agents. While that's not an espionage charge, it did give federal authorities an opportunity to keep the Mak clan from fleeing the country while the investigation continues.
Now, prosecutors are apparently prepared to charge Chi Mak, Rebecca Chiu, Tai Mak and a fourth family member with conspiracy to export defense articles and attempted unlawful export of defense articles. Additionally, Chi Mak will be indicted on charges of unlawfully exporting defense articles and gathering defense information, an espionage charge. At the time of his arrest, Chi Mak was working as an electrical engineer for on Power Paragon, a Los Angeles-based defense contractor.
Authorities believe the Mak clan passed extremely sensitive defense information to the Chinese government, including data on the new Virginia-class attack submarine, and a new electro-magnetic catapult for aircraft carriers. Such information would represent an intelligence bonanza for the Chinese Navy, making it easier for them to detect (and track) U.S. subs, while improving their own sub designs. Beijing's carrier aviation program is still in its infancy, but access to electro-magnetic catapult designs could allow the Chinese to leap-frog ahead, by-passing steam-powered catapults in favor of more advanced technology.
Federal investigators reportedly found "thousands of pages" of defense documents at the home of Chi Mak after his arrest. The sensitive nature of that information led to the new charges, which will be made public as early as this week.
The Mak case highlights the espionage threat posed by the PRC, and its agents operating inside this country. Since the early 1980s, Beijing has deliberately targeted high-tech U.S. weaponry and related technology, and they've enjoyed some success. As detailed in such books as "Year of the Rat" and Mr. Gertz's own, "The China Threat," Beijing has acquired design data for advanced nuclear warheads, MIRV technology for ballistic missiles, and essentially copied our F-16 fighter, through the Israeli LAVI program. The activities of the Mak clan suggest that Beijing's espionage campaign is continuing, unabated. Tai Mak, who apparently served as a courier to Beijing, was carrying an encrypted disk with defense information when he was arrested last year at LAX.
Prosecutors are apparently moving slowly in this case, mindful of security concerns, the Wen Ho Lee debacle, and security concerns surrounding the matter. But I'll go out on a limb, and predict that more indictments are forthcoming. It will be particularly interesting to trace the employment of Chi Mak. As a defense contractor, he likely held at least a "Secret" clearance, and (given the nature of the information recovered from his home), may have held a "Top Secret" clearance and/or access to special access programs. The Virginia represents "state-of-the-art" U.S. sub technology, and disclosures about its capabilities could prove particularly damaging.