House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) announced a new investigation on Monday into the apparent efforts of Chinese operatives to infiltrate the U.S. military.
Mr. Comer and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.)—who chairs the Oversight subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs—sent a letter (pdf) to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and FBI Director Chris Wray on Monday, raising alarm about repeated instances of Chinese nationals rushing through the security gates at U.S. military bases. The Republican lawmakers called on Mr. Austin and Mr. Wray to brief Congress about these security incidents by Oct. 16.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal first reported that a joint review by the Department of Defense (DOD), FBI, and other U.S. agencies found more than a hundred instances of Chinese nationals attempting to force their way onto U.S. military bases and other sensitive facilities in recent years. The multi-agency review reportedly found that in many cases, these Chinese nationals came dressed as tourists, and sped through security gates before being detained, criminally cited, and escorted off base. The review allegedly dubbed these Chinese nationals “gate crashers.”
Wang Yuhao and Zhang Jielun, both Chinese citizens, were arrested at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West in January 2019 after venturing onto the naval base and snapping photos. According to court records, a security guard instructed the two Chinese nationals that they were unauthorized to enter the facility and that they could only proceed far enough onto the facility to make a U-turn to leave. The pair instead continued onto the base.
Those two Chinese nationals later pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Navy base and were sentenced to prison in June 2020. A third Chinese national, Lyuyou Liao, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced in June 2020 over a similar effort to illegally enter NAS Key West.
“These efforts to access U.S. military bases and facilities raise concerns about what these Chinese nationals are seeking to access and for what purpose,” the two Republican lawmakers wrote on Monday. “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has long used espionage as a tool to gain access to U.S. national security secrets. But the PRC’s efforts to spy on the United States has become more brazen in recent years.”
While these “gate crashers” may only be able to capture a glimpse of the happenings at sensitive U.S. facilities before they are apprehended, the Republican lawmakers shared concerns about a range of different ways Chinese agents could spy on the United States. In their letter, Mr. Comer and Mr. Grothman noted instances in which Chinese nationals and business entities have tried to buy up land near U.S. military bases, as well as the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that passed over the breadth of the United States earlier this year before eventually being shot down over the Atlantic ocean.
The two Republicans also noted the arrest of two U.S. Navy sailors this summer on charges of spying for China, as well as arrests in connection with a suspected Chinese secret police station that had been operating in New York City.
“The varied nature of these incidents, from clandestine intelligence facilities to espionage balloons, suggests a multifaceted approach to intelligence gathering by the PRC,” Mr. Comer and Mr. Grothman wrote. “It is imperative that our government is fully apprised of the breadth and depth of these activities, which pose significant threats to our national security, and our military personnel.”
The two lawmakers asked the DOD and FBI to provide more specific details about the nature and frequency of Chinese efforts to surveil U.S. military bases, as well as the security implications of these incidents. They also asked the DOD and FBI to detail what efforts have been made to counter these apparent espionage attempts.