[ISN] Espionage trial may be window on Chinese intel

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Sun Mar 25 2007 - 22:33:46 PST


By Matt Krasnowski
March 25, 2007

LOS ANGELES - The FBI knew about Chi Mak's retirement plans, what his 
dining room looked like and what he allegedly took home from work.

The 66-year-old engineer for a Southern California defense contractor 
and his 57-year-old brother, Tai Mak, were under surveillance for 
months. Agents tapped the Maks' phones, planted listening devices in 
their cars, sifted through their trash and installed a closed-circuit 
camera above Chi Mak's dining-room table.

Investigators suspected Chi Mak was taking restricted documents about 
naval technology from his job at Anaheim-based defense contractor Power 
Paragon and passing them to his brother, who was going to deliver them 
to a contact in China.

In October 2005, Tai Mak and his wife were arrested at Los Angeles 
International Airport as they were preparing to board a flight to China. 
In their luggage was a set of English-instruction compact discs, but 
disc 3 in the set contained encrypted files on Navy electric-drive 
propulsion systems that would make submarines hard to detect.

The Chinese-born Chi Mak, who became a U.S. citizen in 1985, and his 
wife were arrested the same day at their home in Downey. He remains in 

While some past high-profile U.S. criminal cases suggesting Chinese 
espionage have been scuttled, Chi Mak's trial is set to start Tuesday in 
Santa Ana about a year after he reportedly planned to retire.

He faces charges of conspiracy to export U.S. secrets to China, 
possession of property in aid of a foreign government and failure to 
register as a foreign agent. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more 
than 50 years in prison.

Tai Mak, his wife and son, and Chi Mak's wife face a separate trial in 

The extremely sensitive information the Maks were trying to pass to the 
Chinese could have endangered the lives of officers and sailors who 
serve on submarines, prosecution papers state.

Experts say the trial could be groundbreaking because little has been 
made public about the activity of Chinese military intelligence agents 
in the United States.

This case is going to be a reference point, said Paul D. Moore, who 
worked for 20 years as the FBI's chief China analyst. This is the first 
case against an alleged Chinese military intelligence operation that the 
government has made public.

Chi Mak's lawyers contend that the allegations are blown out of 
proportion and have innocent explanations.

It is expected that the defense will argue that the secret documents Chi 
Mak allegedly was stealing had been made public at professional 

He was universally known as one of the most dependable, hard-working 
engineers who worked for Power Paragon, and he had committed himself to 
the U.S. Navy and naval research, said Mak's lawyer, Ronald Kaye.

Prosecutors say they plan to present evidence that casts a harsh light 
on the Maks' activities.

Only days before Tai Mak's arrest, agents heard him talk on the 
telephone with Mr. Pu in China. Mak said he was with Red Flower of North 
America, traveling to Guangzhou and bringing his assistant. In court 
papers, prosecutors note that many Chinese intelligence units use the 
names of flowers, such as Winter Chrysanthemum.

During an Oct. 28, 2005, search of Chi Mak's home, agents found 
thousands of documents. All were unclassified, but many were restricted 
from sharing with anyone who was not a U.S. citizen with a need to know 
the information, prosecutors said.

The search also turned up tasking lists asking Chi Mak to get documents 
on sensitive projects. A search of his trash in March 2004 led to the 
discovery of two other torn-up lists.

In addition to the information on the submarine propulsion systems, 
prosecutors contend that the Maks possessed documents on the next 
generation of Navy warships, known as DD(X).

In a jailhouse interview with agents, Chi Mak admitted he had passed 
documents containing sensitive material to China since 1983, prosecution 
papers state. This included information about Aegis-equipped warships.

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