Germany gears up for Chinese spy scare

While China’s busy denying its hand in the decades-long economic espionage case that recently came to light in the U.S., Germany is ramping up to deal with a spy onslaught from the Chinese. According to the widely read German weekly Der Spiegel, a German intelligence agency has created the “China Task Force,” whose purpose is to keep track of the increasing activities of Chinese spies in Germany.

Various sources indicate that Chinese spies are not only working as staff members at the Chinese Embassy, but also as employees in just about every big German company. German intelligence estimates that there are anywhere between 20 and 50 spies from China currently living and gathering intel in their country.

Apparently the Chinese spies are mostly looking for information regarding China’s political sore spots (Taiwan’s independence, the Tibetan freedom movement, Falun Gong, China’s democracy movement, etc.), but obviously it’s suspected that some economic espionage is afoot as well, given the alleged presence of spies in German companies.

In fact, Walter Opfermann from the State Office for Counterintelligence in Baden-Württemberg said yesterday that both China and Russia have been using cyber espionage “to save billions on their own economic research and development.” This sort of spying saves China heaps of money, but ends up costing German companies upwards of 50 billion euro each year.

Also, reported incidents of Chinese spying include:
•    A guard at a Siemens office building having to stop Chinese employees from re-entering the building alone late at night
•    A Zeiss Company employee breaking into his employer’s internal network to steal technology secrets, which were subsequently transmitted to China by a Chinese academic residing in southern Germany

The spy scare is making it harder for Chinese diplomats to get visas for Germany. One Chinese diplomat, who has a history of spying on abroad Uyghurs (a Turkish ethic group living in what is presently northwest China), may well have his visa application to work in the Chinese Embassy in Munich denied.

It seems, however, that some are more concerned about the damage that cyber espionage can cause. Opfermann says that the Chinese cyber capabilities are well past the point of just accessing information. A real Chinese cyber attack would significantly threaten Germany’s critical infrastructure, such as the country’s power grid for example.

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