THE BLOG

Forget Russia. Chinese Spies Are the Real Threat

01/23/2012 12:49 EST | Updated 03/24/2012 05:12 EDT
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There are aspects of the Canadian spy case that differ substantially from spy cases dating back to Cold War espionage waged by the now-defunct Soviet system.

If guilty of funneling secrets from HMCS Trinity communications centre in Halifax to Russia, Sub-Lieutenant Jeffery Delisle warrants whatever punishment is dished out to him. Regardless of motives, he is a traitor and it matters not a whit that we are not at war with the country that exploited his treachery.

This presumes Delisle's guilt, which has not yet been proven.

As a sign of changing times, the Russian media has acknowledged Delisle was allegedly spying for them -- something that would never be admitted in Soviet times when the KGB and GRU were in ascendency.

Some staff at the Russian embassy have been recalled (or expelled), but what is different today from past mischief is, that unlike the old Soviet Union, Russia is no longer intent on world domination, or in subverting and undermining every country -- friend and foe -- with whom it has relations.

That's a considerable distinction.

These days, Russia is more concerned about the growing (and sometimes malignant) influence of China, rather than the U.S.

A case can be made that those who rule Russia know the West better than they know the Orient. Perhaps, on reflection, they know both East and West pretty well, and know that the West (read the U.S.) has no ambitions of exploiting or undermining them militarily, and that China is a different, more sinister threat.

The West wants peace and harmony; China seeks to be a global power.

This does not mean that Russia is benign and passive. Hardly. But its global interests have shifted from military dominance to industrial power. While S/Lt Delisle might have access to some NATO and British naval information, it's unlikely he or the Trinity facility would know highly sensitive U.S. military information that is deemed too secret to risk sharing with some allies.

Of course, Russian intelligence wouldn't refuse any sort of secret information. Larry Black, director of the Centre for Research on Canadian Russian Relations, points out that industrial espionage has priority in Russia these days. He's right.

Similarly, China is also intent on industrial espionage, and is building a navy replete with submarines and aircraft carriers -- but is getting no help from Russia in this regard. In curbing China, Russia and America have mutual interests. Or should have.

The spy scandal involving this Canadian junior officer has a Pavlovian quality. When the Soviet Union imploded, its intelligence and espionage services were massive and pervasive. Every work place, social institution, apartment complex, school, sporting, cultural, religious, political, and military organization had informers working for the KGB.

When the Berlin wall came down and the USSR was no more, its intelligence agencies likely continued doing what intelligence agencies do -- running on auto-pilot rather as the military did when political leadership changed or vanished.

How much of Russian spying is left over from the past, functioning on past priorities, and how much is an updated, streamlined version is unknown.

But it can be guaranteed that like the Chinese, industrial espionage has priority in the Russian system. And as far as Canada is concerned, Chinese industrial and social espionage is more active, intense, and threatening than the Russian version.

Among our Chinese community, tales of Beijing's intrusion are more common than rare -- even though our politicians avoid acknowledging this reality for fear of looking racist, or of losing votes. More about that in the future . . . .