I received a letter from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management a few weeks ago, informing me that hackers had stolen personal information from their computer network. This includes security files about me and other present or former government employees and political appointees, including members of the military and government contractors — millions of folks, many like me who had undergone deep background investigations for security clearances.
The stolen files hold information that could be used to target potential spies for recruitment, or to aid in discovering their real identities or for blackmail. One of the CIA’s biggest foreign stations is in Beijing. By using advanced data analytics Chinese intelligence officers could identify undercover CIA officers there and at other posts around the world.
Nowhere in the two-page OPM letter, or in the Obama administration’s public statements about the massive theft, has any mention been made of who were the hackers. But it is an open secret that the People’s Republic of China government is the culprit. Why then won’t the Obama White House wag an accusative finger at the PRC? After all, the Obama camp raised hell with China about hacking the computer networks of American businesses, even filing a Department of Justice lawsuit against Chinese military hackers.
The Obama administration, it seems, has come up with their own cost/benefit analysis, telling their intelligence chiefs they don’t want to compromise CIA and NSA collection activity against the Chinese by initiating a public fight, though the Chinese obviously know that the U.S. knows. Obama’s foreign policy minions, off the record, claim they may seek sub-rosa means to punish the PRC government. Not a likely true response from this Neville Chamberlain-esque foreign policy crowd.
Appeasement is always a bad idea. If you walk up on the neighborhood bully tormenting your little brother you don’t pretend you didn’t see it; you shout and punch him right in the nose. This is not the instinctive response from our whiny leftist president, a man who seems to not really like this country but does like to criticize it and clearly enjoys knocking it off its high horse; a left-wing student from Indonesia who spent his formative years smoking weed in laid-back Hawaii and gaming the liberal system for educational freebies and whose new best friends, now that he is in charge, turn out to be the totalitarian leaders of Cuba and Iran.
If you think our traditional American values are being destroyed by years of pathetic Obama politics, then you may be heartened to know: As our society crumbles around us, that all is not rosy in the People’s Republic of China as of late, either.
I learned of this story from a friend in the PRC, a longtime resident of Beijing — smart, perceptive, well connected, with finely tuned antennae.
Ling Jihua, the 58-year-old former chief of staff to retired president Hu Jintao, was arrested in late July by agents of President Xi Jinping and his anti-graft watchdog agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Mr. Ling has been expelled from the Communist Party and his wife, Gu Lipeng, two brothers and a brother-in-law had already been arrested or detained.
Mr. Ling was charged with collecting millions of dollars in bribes, keeping mistresses at state expense and other violations of “Party discipline” including stealing “core” state secrets, (no explanation or details offered) according the official PRC news agency. He was also charged with “adultery,” though adultery is not a crime in the PRC, or wasn’t until a scarlet “A” was pinned to Ling’s expensive suit jacket.
Mr. Ling was accused of using his office and public money to feather his wife’s many business nests. The news came as the Politburo’s 25 members prepared to meet for their annual summer conference in Hebei.
Mr. Ling, balding and bespectacled, had been a rising star in China with a reputation as President Hu’s powerful political fixer. He was expected to join the Politburo three years ago but his career was derailed when his only son, 23-year-old Ling Gu, was killed in a car crash. The boy was driving a black Ferrari, costing close to $300,000. Ling Gu crashed at high speed on Beijing’s Fourth Ring Road and died immediately when the car tore apart. Thrown from the wreck were two young Tibetan women, college students, one totally nude and the other almost so.
The senior Mr. Ling and several of his relatives soon orchestrated a complex cover-up. The site of the crash was locked down and sealed by police and soldiers to control physical evidence on orders of Mr. Ling. Beijing’s police identified the dead man to news reporters by a phony name, a Mr. Jia. Later, PRC wags noted that “Jia” sounds very much like the Mandarin word for “fake,” so it was “Mr. Fake” at the wheel of that incredibly expensive car.
When shown the body of “Mr. Jia” and asked by authorities if it could be his son, Ling Gu, Mr. Ling said no and denied knowing the dead man. The two women injured in the crash were brought in to see the body and they also denied it was Ling Gu. Later, it was learned that Mr. Ling’s brother-in-law, a senior provincial police administrator, had destroyed records of the Ferrari’s ownership, tampered with other evidence and threatened the two female Tibetans into denying that the dead man was Ling Gu.
But stories were soon circulating among the PRC nomenklatura that the Ferrari was being driven by Ling Gu and he was dead. Counter-rumors were spread that the young man, a recent graduate of Peking University and enrolled in a master’s degree program, was out of the country on vacation, perhaps in Europe. A phony message posted on Chinese social media, signed by Ling Gu, seemed to confirm this. It was addressed to his friends, thanked them for their concerns and read, “I am well! Do not worry.”
Mr. Ling also used agents of the Central Guard Bureau (similar to the U.S. Secret Service in its protection of Politburo members) in his cover-up, a fact that, when they learned of it, annoyed many senior Chinese bureaucrats, including Mr. Ling’s protector and protégé, the old president, Hu Jintao and the new President, Xi Jinping, who had promised to attack widespread government corruption.
The two female passengers in the Ferrari crash were badly injured and hospitalized. One later died under mysterious conditions. Both of their families received private cash payments of $2.4 million, laundered through the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation. The money came with orders from Ling Jihua’s office: Keep your lips zipped.
To add to this interesting mix of characters is a rich, successful 56-year-old Chinese businessman, real estate developer and well-known championship golfer, a man named Wang Cheng. The tanned former journalist (he founded a popular news website) owns a home in Southern California. He was arrested in Beijing last October when he returned from the U.S. His real name is not Wang Cheng. His name is Ling Wanchen and he is Mr. Ling’s baby brother. Rumors abound that he is still in custody on unspecified charges. Other rumors that say he is back in America, protected by a collection of secret Politburo documents he spirited out of Beijing on behalf of his brother and that covert efforts by Chinese spies to catch him, perhaps to kill him, failed.
Richard W. Carlson is a retired United States ambassador and former director of the Voice of America. He is the co-author, with Col. Bill Cowan, of the very funny satirical novel, “Snatching Hillary” about the kidnapping of the presidential candidate before the New Hampshire Primary in 2016 and now available on Amazon.com.