Book Reviews

The Occidental Jeopardy Revisited: A Review of Chinese Industrial Espionage

By July 7, 2014 No Comments

Hannas, William C, James Mulvenon, and Anna B. Puglisi. Chinese Industrial Espionage. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

Government hackers toiling away ceaselessly utterly devoted to serving a greater entity.  They are cogs in a machine that is determined for domination through any means.  It is a simplistic narrative that lacks nuance.  One that renders a partially ineffective prescription for a real illness through a misdiagnosis of the symptoms. This is the China that the authors of Chinese Industrial Espionage (CIE), William C. Hannas, James Mulvenon, and Anna B. Puglisi, paint for the reader. Although a work of solid research Chinese Industrial Espionage suffers from an over-generalized analysis of China’s efforts to acquire technology through illicit means.

All three authors are eminently qualified to write about the topic of Chinese intelligence gathering and espionage. William C. Hannas, “served with the U.S. Navy and Joint Operations Command, taught at Georgetown University, and holds a senior executive position in a component of the U.S. Government.” James Mulvenon holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of California and is Director of Defense Group Inc.’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. Anna B. Puglisi works as a senior analyst for the US federal government, and has a background in research and technical infrastructure.

The authors state from the outset that Chinese Industrial Espionage’s primary focus is, “China’s efforts to prosper technologically through other’s achievements,” including other nations or non-sovereign entities that have technological achievements.  The heart of the book’s argument is that since the late 19th century, China has operated, “an elaborate, comprehensive system for spotting foreign technologies, acquiring them by every imaginable means, and converting them into weapons and competitive good.” (pg. 2) China is not interested in innovation but simply acquiring it from other entities.

Chinese Industrial Espionage begins with a brief history of China’s attempts to acquire foreign technology, moving through various governmental programs and apparatuses to carry out this transfer of technological innovation.  All forms of information are fair game, even the seemingly innocuous such as open source technologies and the exchange of university level students with Western countries.

However, what seems innocuous can actually be uncovered as valuable information by the patient researcher. Such was the case from a careless declassification of Department of Energy documents from 1971-1976 during which, “a total of 2.8 million items, of which 1.5 million were declassified.” (p. 28)  In one instance, “at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, they reviewed a total of 388,000 documents in 33 days, so each reviewer had to review around 1,000 documents a day, about two a minute.” (p. 29) Because of this high paced declassification, mistakes were made resulting in, “19,400 documents were mistakenly declassified, and of these there were at least eight highly secret items regarding thermonuclear weapons.” (p. 29)  Interestingly, scouring open sources is one of the primary functions of China’s Institute of Scientific and Technical Information.
Readers interested in the various government agencies that make up China’s intelligence gathering and espionage apparatus will find CIE fascinating. While it does not provide a perfect blue print, since it only deals with industrial espionage, CIE shows the connections and various functions and duties of each department. CIE is an excellent primer about Chinese espionage as the information is an easy reference, with extensive footnoting and a thorough index.
However, over-reaching conclusions and hasty generalizations make Chinese Industrial Espionage suffer in its analysis.  While the authors make a convincing case that industrial espionage by China is something to be taken more seriously by Western powers, they polemicize certain claims to the point that it detracts from their conclusions. For example:

“The picture we present of a country hell-bent on acquiring ‘existing’ (other people’s) technology and applying it practically, instead of creating ideas of its own to share with the world community, is unlikely to be debated by anyone with insight into the real state of affairs, least of all Chinese policy-makers themselves.  The evidence is too overwhelming.” (p. 237)

These types of statements that exist throughout the book lack nuance and specificity. With any public policy application, no matter what form of government, there are always cultural and political considerations.  There is a context, and the analysis needs to be delineated within it.  The authors of CIE stray from this context in order to magnify a problem that does not need it.  It is alarming enough, and Chinese Industrial Espionage makes the point without unnecessary hyperbole.

Even though Chinese Industrial Espionage suffers because of this exaggeration, the book raises several important 21st security issues: cyber security, cyber warfare, the intersection between private and public technological innovation, and, indirectly, intellectual property rights.