William Tucker: Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage

China Eyes the Islands

William Tucker William serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning. Mr. Tucker regularly writes on terrorism, intelligence (geopolitical/strategic), violent religious movements, and psychological profiling. Prior to his current position, Mr. Tucker served in the U.S. Army where he frequently briefed superior military officers in global terrorist movements and the modernization of foreign militaries. Additionally, he advised Department of Defense Police on domestic and international terrorist movements and trends in guerrilla attacks. Mr. Tucker received his B.A. and M.A. in Homeland Security (both with Honors from American Military University – AMU). You can follow William on Twitter at @tuckerwj.

In March of this year, defense contractor Benjamin Bishop was arrested for passing classified material to his much younger Chinese girlfriend. Bishop worked in cyber security and had access to a wide variety of U.S. defense information such as missile defense, countering weapons of mass destruction, U.S. nuclear posture, and signals intercept capabilities. What struck many about the case was that it occurred in Hawaii – a locale the American public doesn’t typically associate with espionage, or even national defense for that matter. But for those working in national defense, or among the national security observers, Hawaii is a well known cornerstone to U.S. activities in the Pacific Ocean.

Other U.S. positions in Guam, Japan, and South Korea have become vital to Washington’s desire to limit Chinese naval expansion. Truth be told, China’s neighbors are increasingly nervous as Beijing has aggressively sought to use its military power in furtherance of its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas. With the U.S. slowly starting to “pivot” to the far reaches of the pacific, China’s ongoing intelligence collection efforts will only increase in priority among its national defense initiatives. Considering the U.S. assets in Hawaii, the U.S. islands are a natural place for the Chinese, along with its neighbors, to invest much of its efforts.

If the information that Bishop turned over to his girlfriend was damaging, then the information that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has disclosed both publically, and likely privately, would serve to greatly compound the situation. Snowden, who was also working in Hawaii for a time, similarly had access to a substantial amount of U.S. defense related materials via his work in information technology. Whatever information that Bishop provided likely didn’t detail an entire picture, but now with Snowden’s help Beijing will likely start to fill the gaps where they can. Another dynamic to consider is the FBI’s investigation into the Snowden matter and the reports that they are looking for a coconspirator or possibly another leak at the FISA court.

Most counterintelligence investigations try to stem to flow of information flowing out, while trying to identify all parties that may have been involved in the illicit disclosure of sensitive information. Simply put, the search for other parties affiliated with Snowden doesn’t necessarily mean he had help, but it’s a natural point to exhaust all avenues. In the FISA court, however, classified warrants will include the names and acquaintances under investigation. The reason for protecting this information prevents the suspects from fleeing. Furthermore, foreign collection attempts often have multiple people involved along with case officers working under official cover orchestrating the operations. Releasing just one name could undermine the entire effort to uncover the collection cell.

The disclosure of individuals under investigation would greatly aid any foreign nation with assets in the U.S. Speaking specifically about China; we have a substantial loss of sensitive material along with the possible disclosure of assets that may be under investigation. If there is indeed a connection between these incidents, then it follows that Beijing now has the opportunity to shuffle collectors and refocus on other areas. Like any large nation, the U.S. has a large military and intelligence apparatus that offers a plethora of opportunities for collection. Considering the sheer amount of people needed to run the day to day operations of these agencies it becomes more apparent that China, among others, has any number of avenues to exploit for collection. Of the 200 plus nations that were collecting against the U.S. in 2011, the challenge posed to counterintelligence officials has never been greater. To think, we are only discussing three known individuals and a single country here. Quite frankly, it is rather difficult to overstate the situation regarding foreign intelligence collection on the U.S.

This brings us back to the foreign collection focus on Hawaii. Another recent espionage case includes an Army officer who was gathering classified information to pass along to Cambodia. The South Asian country hardly seems as if it needs to collect U.S. secrets, but the aggressiveness with which China has been pursuing its territorial claims in the South China Sea has many nations in the region looking to the U.S. for backing. Washington seems inclined to increase its presence in the region to contain China, but it takes time to hammer out diplomatic and military agreements. Indeed the U.S. will make some sort of pivot to East Asia, and it will be slow, but it will happen. In the meantime the U.S. will use its Pacific assets and allies to collect intelligence to stay abreast of developments in the region. China, and even Washington’s allies, will do the same. Hawaii just happens to be a lightning rod for much of this activity.

Blogs of WarJohn Little has been breaking national security news and leveraging thousands of conflict, intelligence, security, technology & political sources to provide level-headed analysis in a complex news environment since 2002.