Former CIA official: China uses linkedin hunter heads to gather tech intelligence

China’s intelligence services have in recent years been actively using the social networking site LinkedIn to identify overseas technology researchers in order to extract the research and advanced technology that China needs from Europe and the United States, Olson, the former head of the CIA’s counterintelligence division, said.

In an exclusive interview with James Olson published on The Australian Financial Review website on Thursday night, Olson said Chinese intelligence agencies were “aggressively” using social media to recruit science and technology professionals from overseas.

They [Chinese intelligence services] are looking to the West for people who can help them get access to Western technology or new technology developments,” Olson said.

Ochen cautioned that Western science and technology research professionals, whose cultural background is “focused on sharing information, collaborating with others and discussing their research with others,” are often not wary of “people with bad intentions.

Ochen is a former officer in the U.S. Navy, spent more than 30 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and is currently a professor in the School of Government and Public Administration at Texas A&M University.

The Australian Financial Review reported on September 14 that Zhenhua Data, a Shenzhen company that undertook the “hybrid warfare” business between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Communist Party of China (CPC), was building an “Overseas Key Individuals Database” (OKIDB) for 2.4 million influential people around the world.

Zhenhua Data’s database includes 35,000 Australians – mainly high-profile figures in politics, law and the military, but also lesser-known individuals such as tech entrepreneurs, academics, businessmen and religious leaders, as well as those with criminal records or sanctions for breaching business rules.

The Australian Financial Review’s report on Thursday said that many of the profiles of Australians in the Zhenhua data base overlap with those shown on the collar.

Ochen mentioned that many science and technology researchers would put on their CVs that they worked for government departments or high-tech companies; some of them had worked on scientific research of interest to Chinese intelligence services. All of this information is clearly visible on the collar.

Ochen said the Chinese intelligence services would try to “wined and dined” their targets, such as inviting them to conferences, allowing them to establish contacts and offering them jobs.

They will do everything they can to get information, they will observe and assess in order to identify the easier targets, and then they will not stop until they have achieved their goal,” Ochen said.

Ochen said the Chinese intelligence services’ basic enticement package is to share a lot of information with those Western technology experts who think they might get future jobs or partnership opportunities.

Ochen added that both international students from China to overseas and those from overseas to China are targeted by Chinese intelligence services.

For example, Glenn Duffie Shriver, an American student studying in Shanghai, was paid $70,000 by Chinese intelligence agencies to apply for a job at the State Department or CIA. Shriver was arrested by the FBI in 2010 and subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release on January 21, 2011: “Schriver admitted to the court that his purpose was to secure employment with the (U.S.) federal government or the intelligence community so that he could obtain classified national defense information, which he could then provide to Chinese (intelligence) personnel; this was part of his job description for which he accepted relevant monetary compensation.”

Olson mentioned that important U.S. personnel now routinely receive self-protective security briefings (defensive briefings) from the FBI prior to their visits to China. Governments, he said, need to be proactive in informing universities and businesses of the risks they may face.