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Is the US Thwarting China’s Anti-Corruption (and Political Crime) Campaign to Retaliate for the OPM Hack?

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 6.13.36 PMTwo weeks after floating a story to the NYT the Obama asked for some creative ways to retaliate against China for the OPM hack, the NYT reported (in both English and a prominently linked Chinese translation) that “in recent weeks” the US told agents trying to chase down Chinese nationals accused of corruption to get out.

The Obama administration has delivered a warning to Beijing about the presence of Chinese government agents operating secretly in the United States to pressure prominent expatriates — some wanted in China on charges of corruption — to return home immediately, according to American officials.

The American officials said that Chinese law enforcement agents covertly in this country are part of Beijing’s global campaign to hunt down and repatriate Chinese fugitives and, in some cases, recover allegedly ill-gotten gains.

The Chinese government has officially named the effort Operation Fox Hunt.

The American warning, which was delivered to Chinese officials in recent weeks and demanded a halt to the activities, reflects escalating anger in Washington about intimidation tactics used by the agents. And it comes at a time of growing tension between Washington and Beijing on a number of issues: from the computer theft of millions of government personnel files that American officials suspect was directed by China, to China’s crackdown on civil liberties, to the devaluation of its currency.

Operation Fox Hunt is not new — or secret. It has been covered before by the US press, including updates on how many people official Chinese sources claim they have gotten to return for prosecution. The NYT follow-up admits — though the original didn’t provide the same level of detail — that DHS agreed in April to prosecute Chinese economic fugitives (which would extend the US habit of asserting jurisdiction where none exists) if provided real evidence of corruption.

But in April, the Department of Homeland Security worked out a new arrangement with China’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees Operation Fox Hunt, to assist Beijing’s efforts to prosecute economic fugitives according to United States law. American officials, however, say China has so far failed to provide the necessary evidence.

Both NYT articles mention what the WSJ reports in more depth, including details of how these operatives are working: Among the economic fugitives in the US China is aggressively pursuing is Ling Wangcheng, the brother of a former top Hu Jintao aide

Mr. Ling’s brother was a top aide to China’s previous president, Hu Jintao, but was placed under investigation by the Communist Party in December and formally accused in July of bribe-taking, adultery and illegally obtaining state secrets.

For much of 2014, Mr. Ling was living under an alias in a mansion in a gated community in Loomis, Calif., near Sacramento, with Mr. Yuan’s ex-wife, neighbors said. The couple hasn’t been seen there since around October.

Mr. Ling is now the focus of political intrigue that could overshadow a visit to the U.S. in September by China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

Diplomats and analysts said Mr. Ling might have had access through this brother to sensitive information about Chinese leaders. If he sought political asylum, Mr. Ling would be the most significant Chinese defector in decades.

It isn’t clear why Mr. Ling, 55 years old, moved to the U.S. in 2013 or 2014. He lost touch with many friends in China around last fall, a family acquaintance said, but later reassured friends he was safe in the U.S.

The implication from this — and other recent reporting on Ling — is that he did get asylum in October, and has been cooperating with US authorities.

All that is probably only tangentially related to the US leak of its earlier decision — taken precisely as the US tries to find a way to retaliate for the OPM hack — to start cracking down on this Chinese effort.

There are two things I haven’t seen mentioned in coverage of this. First, remember that the US has engaged in a similar effort, using an offer of amnesty for rich tax cheats who had stashed their money in Swiss banks (though there have been what I believe to be similar efforts on the part of the US to expose tax cheats that have mostly focused on non-US citizens).

And don’t forget the lengths to which the US went to get someone who had top secrets to come back to the US, including when it had Austria ground Evo Morales’ plane so it could search for Edward Snowden.

In any case, I suspect the US used Operation Fox Hunt as an opportunity to let China know it knew of these admitted agents. Sort of a way for the US to tell China we know where its operatives in the US are, just as it knows where our operatives are in China, thanks to the OPM hack.

For its part, China’s Xinhua paper has scolded the US for harboring crooks (and provided slightly different details of the agreement pertaining to Fox Hunt).

Corruption is not only a serious problem in China, but also in the rest of the world. And in a world which is more and more connected, countries should take coordinated efforts in fighting corruption.

Although there is no extradition agreement between the United States and China, the two countries actually have already agreed on anti-corruption cooperation.

In April 2015, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun in Beijing, and they agreed to strengthen cooperation in law enforcement.

They agreed not to provide shelter for the other side’s fugitives and would try to repatriate them in accordance with law. Specifically, Johnson also promised to actively support China’s “Sky Net” and “Fox Hunt” operations, which aim to bring back corrupt officials.

So the U.S. government’s decision to force China’s law enforcement stuff to leave the country obviously reveals that Washington lacks sincerity and has failed to translate its words into action.

Some analysts even say that the United States is reluctant to repatriate those corrupt officials for the sake of their money of course.

Therefore, the United States, as a country that often stresses the rule of law, should clarify the issue and by no means become a safe haven for Chinese criminal suspects.

The US may have decided this would be an easy way to push back on China, but that won’t prevent China from scoring points from it.

Edward Snowden’s Extradition Request

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 9.31.58 AMAs I noted last night, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered Edward Snowden asylum last night. (The Spanish was “hemos decidido” and “he decidido ofrecerle asilio” which included none of the sense of hypothetical that Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega used.)

The government has released the extradition request they’ve sent to the Venezuelan government.

Perhaps the most interesting detail is the date: July 3. Way back when Maduro was (unless I’ve lost track of his chronology), still in Russia or Belarus, and when Bolivian President Evo Morales was making a big stink about being “kidnapped” in Vienna.

Since that time, Maduro finished his visit in Belarus. Flew (presumably with a refueling stop somewhere and possibly a stop at home) to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where at least 6 South American leaders either were personally or had sent a representative (in addition to Morales and Maduro, the Presidents of Ecuador, Suriname, Argentina, and Uruguay were present, Brazils Dilma Rousseff had sent a representative, as had, according to some reports, Peru and Chile).

Then Maduro returned home in time for Venezuela’s Independence Day celebration, where he issued his statement offering asylum.

It appears that after the US issued the extradition request to Venezuela, they issued an arrest warrant to Ireland.

Now, perhaps the US has real intelligence saying that Snowden remains in Russia. But these are the people who were sure he was on Morales’ plane just a few days ago. And they don’t really seem all too sure about where Snowden is.

Update: This is one of the few stories I’ve seen that affirmatively said Snowden was still in Russia after Maduro’s departure, based on a single Russian security source.

Update: And this has more Russian sources stating he remains stuck in Russia.

Europe again stuck saying, “They told us they were sure”

The NATO members who refused overflight privileges for Bolivian President Evo Morales are, in the process of trying to justify what they did, revealing more details of what led them to risk such a diplomatic affront. Among other explanations, the Spanish foreign minister explained that “they” told the Spanish “they were sure” Snowden was on board Morales’ plane.

“They told us they were sure… that he was on board,” Mr Garcia-Margallo told Spanish television, without indicating who “they” are.

“And so the reaction of all the European countries that took measures – whether right or wrong – was because of the information that had been passed on. I couldn’t check if it was true or not at that moment because it was necessary to act straight away.”

In point of fact, it’s not yet clear Snowden wasn’t on the plane. While Austrian authorities checked the passports of the known passengers on the plane, they apparently did not conduct a thorough search. And 3 Spaniards who showed up to conduct a search were denied entry (though Morales did stop in the Canary Islands, which would have provided another opportunity to conduct a search on Spanish territory, but by that point Morales was already making a literal international incident about his treatment).

Then yesterday the heads of state from 5 other South American countries gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia (why not La Paz?) to bitch about the actions of those NATO countries that had insulted Morales. If Snowden was on Morales’ plane, he may well be in any of 6 other countries by now (Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff sent an advisor — and note several attendees would have had to fly over Brazilian airspace to return home).

Or Snowden could be in Austria, which was one of the countries that had said Snowden would need to be in their country before it could consider an asylum request (there were pictures of Morales and Fischer from Morales’ layover that made them look quite jolly).

Or Snowden could still be in Sheremetyevo, though no one has ever seen him there. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov signaled impatience with Snowden today, even though in the past Putin said he would not extradite the leaker. But who knows whether the Russians, who are enjoying this game, are telling the truth?

So Snowden could foreseeably be in Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Russia, Suriname, Uruguay, or Venezuela. And there’s no reason to believe we’d know one way or another.

Meanwhile Ecuador chose yesterday, in the wake of the Morales slight, to complain about a bug placed in its Embassy in London. A bug they claim to have found last month.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told a news conference in Quito the bug was found last month when Ecuadorean technicians reviewed the embassy’s wiring.

Now, Ecuador reportedly found the bug in connection with Patino’s trip to London June 16. Which ought to raise questions about why they’ve chosen this moment to make a stink about it. Did they leave it in place to sow disinformation? In any case, the bug has given Ecuador reason to raise tensions with England, which has avoided the badgering the other NATO European countries have.

So who knows where Snowden is? But in the meantime, US intelligence (presumably the “they” who were “sure” Snowden was on Morales’ plane) has been exposed in another potential false certainty, and the South American nations skeptical of the Washington consensus have reasons to make fun of Europe for playing Washington’s poodle.

This entire stink is supposed to be about America’s omnipotent SIGINT dragnet (the power of which is presumably one of the reasons the NATO members are being so compliant with US demands). But somehow that SIGINT hasn’t pinpointed Snowden yet, and may have gotten badly embarrassed by listening into one of its own bugs.

Update: Nicolas Maduro has granted Snowden asylum, as has Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Which leaves the logistics of getting Snowden to Venezuela if he is not already there.