[ISN] China Finds Bugs on Jet Refitted in U.S.

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sat Jan 19 2002 - 20:59:51 PST

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    By John Pomfret
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, January 19, 2002; Page A1 
    BEIJING, Jan. 18 - Somewhere on a military airfield north of Beijing,
    China's presidential aircraft, a new Boeing 767-300ER with all the
    trimmings, sits unused with parts of its innards torn out.
    Last October, days before its planned maiden voyage, Chinese military
    communications experts discovered numerous high-tech listening devices
    planted inside the plane, according to Chinese and Western sources,
    who said they had been told of this by Chinese military officers and
    aviation officials. The plane was grounded and has not been flown
    since it was delivered.
    Chinese aviation officials and military officers have charged that
    U.S. intelligence agencies planted the bugs aboard the plane while it
    was being refitted in the United States, the sources said. The U.S.  
    Embassy declined to comment on the allegations. Analysts said the
    devices were highly sophisticated.
    A CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, declined to comment on the report,
    saying, "We never comment on allegations like these, as a matter of
    The story behind the immobile Boeing jet offers a tantalizing glimpse
    of modern spycraft. A Chinese source, with close ties to China's
    military intelligence services, said members of the Third Department
    of the General Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army
    discovered the devices. The Third Department deals in signals
    The Chinese source said that, to date, 27 listening devices had been
    found, including devices in the presidential bathroom and in the
    headboard of the presidential bed.
    A Western executive and a Western diplomat said they had been told by
    Chinese aviation sources that the devices were highly sophisticated.  
    The diplomat said they "had to be triggered by a satellite
    communication. In that sense, they were very advanced."
    U.S. sources have said the controversy over the plane is emerging as
    an issue in the summit meeting between President Bush and President
    Jiang Zemin scheduled for Feb. 21 in Beijing. Chinese analysts said
    the incident confirms their fears that the United States is an
    untrustworthy partner and continues to treat China as an enemy.
    After the listening devices were discovered, Western sources said, 20
    Chinese air force officers and two officials from China Air Supply
    Import & Export Corp., which was involved in negotiations for the jet,
    were detained. Chinese sources said they were being investigated for
    negligence and for corruption  the American firms were paid about $10
    million for the refitting job but China doled out $30 million.
    In addition, a senior air force officer is under a form of house
    arrest for his role in the affair. The officer has previously
    purchased planes for government officials through the auspices of
    China United Airlines, owned by the Chinese air force, which also had
    a piece of the transaction in question. A top officer of the
    Bodyguards Bureau of the General Staff Department of the People's
    Liberation Army, has also been criticized for tolerating the lax
    security, the sources said.
    The China Air Supply Import & Export Corp. and China United Airlines
    declined to comment on the situation.
    It is unclear how the episode could affect Boeing, which in September
    signed a $2 billion deal to sell planes to China.
    More broadly, Western diplomats said they believed Washington and
    Beijing would weather the dispute. "This kind of thing is to be
    expected," said a Chinese security expert, who noted that relations
    between Washington and Moscow were not seriously disrupted by
    disclosures in the 1980s that the Soviets had bugged the new U.S.  
    Embassy. The expert added, "Even if our relations were excellent, we
    would still spy on each other."
    China purchased the Boeing 767-300ER in June 2000 for $120 million, a
    Chinese source said. An executive at Delta Airlines said the Chinese
    were so eager to obtain a top-of-the-line 767 that Delta allowed China
    to assume its contractual responsibilities for one plane about to come
    off Boeing's assembly line in Seattle.
    China's state-run media, which dubbed the plane Air Force One,
    reported the sale in August of that year. Several reports, including
    one that appeared in the Guangzhou Daily, a mass circulation newspaper
    in that southern metropolis, said the plane had already been brought
    to China for refitting.
    In fact, the plane had been sent to the San Antonio International
    Airport for refitting by several aircraft maintenance firms, including
    Dee Howard Aircraft Maintenance Lp, Gore Design Completions Ltd.,
    Rockwell Collins Inc. and Avitra Aviation Services Ltd., a Singapore
    firm, according to companies that worked on the contract. The job was
    worth less than $10 million, an industry source said, and work
    continued during a very tense period in U.S.-Chinese relations
    following the April 1, 2001, collision between a U.S. reconnaissance
    aircraft and a Chinese jet off the coast of southern China.
    In a report about the refitting work published last September, the San
    Antonio Express-News quoted Earl Parker, a project manager for Avitra,
    as saying the plane was not a "plain Jane, like [U.S.] Air Force One."  
    Parker told the newspaper the plane was refitted to accommodate about
    100 people in beige leather chairs that could be converted into beds.  
    Larger, one-hour oxygen canisters replaced the 20-minute type used on
    most aircraft. And the new presidential suite consisted of a bedroom,
    sitting room and a bath with a shower. The firms also added a 48-inch
    television set, satellite communications and advanced avionics.
    Chinese security guards provided round-the-clock security for the
    plane while it was being refitted, the newspaper said.
    How the listening devices got on board the plane is a mystery. Phil
    O'Connor, a vice president at Dee Howard Aircraft Maintenance of San
    Antonio, said today was the first time he he had heard of the
    Robert Sanchez, chief operations officer at Gore Design Completions,
    also of San Antonio, said he did not believe the allegations.
    "We had an excellent relationship with every Chinese official who
    worked on this project," he said. "We're not in the business of doing
    things like this." A Rockwell Collins spokeswoman said the company
    would have no comment.
    Work was completed on the plane in August and it was flown to China on
    Aug. 10, stopping in Honolulu. A group of American workers and their
    families accompanied the plane as guests of the Chinese government,
    Sanchez said.
    "The Chinese were very happy with the aircraft and with the work we
    did. They took the workers to the Great Wall and showed them around,"  
    said Sanchez. "Why would any of these corporations or workers consider
    that, if they knew anything about this?"
    Western diplomats and executives learned of the case in mid-October
    when Chinese officials they normally did business with did not appear
    for meetings. Chinese friends and colleagues informed them that the
    officials had been arrested, they said.
    The arrests occurred in China about the time that Jiang was supposed
    to take his maiden voyage in the jet to attend the summit of the
    Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai. Jiang flew to the
    meeting on another airplane.
    Sanchez said Chinese government officials have not contacted his firm
    about the problems. He also said that Chinese aviation officials said
    they wanted Gore to work on three additional VIP aircraft.
    "We're technical, not political," Sanchez said. "This incident is not
    going to hurt the U.S. government; it's not going to hurt the
    government of China. It's only going to hurt the firms. "
    For years, China has worried that Western governments, using Western
    companies, would use high-tech products to compromise China's
    security. China spent millions of dollars protecting the new
    headquarters of the Foreign Affairs Ministry from listening devices
    that could potentially be mounted in office buildings nearby, a
    Chinese security source said.
    Last year, the People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper,
    carried an editorial in which it SAID the import of high-tech products
    from the West constituted a security risk because Western governments
    would place secret codes or technical Trojan horses inside the
    products to collect intelligence.
    Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks in Washington contributed to this report.
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