AMERICAN Top Gun fighter pilots shooting down a giant Chinese “spy” balloon over America’s east coast made headlines all over the world.
It was a political stunt that went wrong for Beijing, rather than a serious attempt at intelligence-gathering.
5The Chinese ‘spy’ balloon drifting high above North AmericaCredit: Reuters5It was a political stunt that went wrong for Beijing, rather than a serious attempt at intelligence-gatheringCredit: Reuters5The balloon was easily shot down by a US fighter – but we should not dismiss it as a jokeCredit: ReutersI would be amazed if the Chinese got any sensible intelligence material from the silver 200ft-tall balloon as it drifted across North America.
First the Canadians and then the US flew their planes directly under the balloon and would have jammed any information it was trying to send and may well have downloaded it for Western intelligence agencies.
But while their balloon adventure was not a spying success — and social media was alight with gags (was this the plot of Top Gun 3? many chuckled) — we should not dismiss it as a joke.
Because China is taking espionage to a completely new level — they are spying on an industrial scale in ways that we have never seen before.
In 2017 China’s National Intelligence Law, which was conceived two years earlier, came into force.
That law legally requires every Chinese citizen, every Chinese organisation and every Chinese company to assist national intelligence, if ever they are called upon.
To put that into perspective, technically more than a billion people have a legal duty to become spies for China if their government tells them to.
While I was director of the independent defence think tank RUSI (Royal United Services Institute), for the first time ever we hosted a small group of about 15 young Chinese officers at our headquarters in London for a briefing.
They sat round and all opened their laptops to take notes while we were being friendly and polite chatting to them about mutual relationships.
Within ten minutes, more than 1,000 attempts had been made to hack into the Institute’s systems and get behind our firewall.
Thankfully they were unsuccessful but we assume they were after the list of all our contacts because they are people with an interest in security and defence. But we defend our lists very vigorously.
The Chinese burgled our building twice and used to follow us around London.
In Chinatown there are some very good restaurants but there are no doubt also some clever intelligence agents working as waiters.
China uses all the traditional espionage that the Russians and every other country uses, including the old-fashioned methods, like honey traps or finding different ways of compromising people.
But they have added a totally new dimension to that, which I call “societal intelligence”, where their whole society can be mobilised to spy on our whole society.
Chinese investment is too deeply embedded in our economy — and China is taking advantage of it.
And while we may have banned Huawei from any involvement in our 5G network from 2027, other Chinese tech firms remain active in many other areas.
According to Big Brother Watch, seven out of ten UK councils, six out of ten NHS Trusts and 57 per cent of secondary schools in England use surveillance equipment made by Chinese companies.
Incredibly, a third of Britain’s police forces still use Chinese technology in surveillance cameras.
Their tech can be present even without people realising it.
Just last month it emerged that a Chinese tracking device was discovered in a UK Government car.
At least one SIM card — used to transmit data, such as location — was found.
This weekend, MP Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, urged Brits to delete video-sharing app TikTok — a huge hit among the young — because of concerns that its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has close links to the Chinese authorities and is sharing data.
She is correct.
5This weekend, MP Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, urged Brits to delete video-sharing app TikTokCredit: Richard Townshend5Anything you do on TikTok — what you see, like, post, share — will go straight back to Shanghai where all the tech spying is doneCredit: RexIt is very unwise for anyone to be on TikTok but certainly MPs and journalists and those dealing with sensitive information, as the app is a prime entry point into your digital world.
Anything you do on TikTok — what you see, like, post, share — will go straight back to Shanghai where all the tech spying is done.
More worryingly, once Chinese intelligence have got into TikTok they can play around inside your phone and see other things.
China’s data ambitions seemingly know no bounds.
They are also buying up gay dating websites to get hold of the private — and sometimes health — details of people who use them.
And if they don’t own something, they also create mirror websites that look like the real thing to harvest information.
Removing TikTok is the tip of the iceberg.
Britain needs to go further.
Our data in the wrong hands has never before made us so vulnerable to this sort of “societal spying”.
We are now living in the era of AI — artificial intelligence — that is so powerful it can go through masses of information and pull out material that a human being could never find.
We know it’s happening.
But we have been slow to do enough about it.
Chinese leaders have a very low opinion of us in the West.
They think we’ll put up with anything as long as we get an economic pay-off.
It is time to show them how wrong they are.
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk