Tiger Trap: America's Secret Spy War with China Hardcover – Jun 14 2011
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-Publishers Weekly "David Wise has done it again. This time it's China. He's taken us deep into the American efforts to root out Chinese spies here and abroad. As always, Wise is the master - writing with clarity and style abou thte murky and consequential underworld of nuclear espionage."
- Tom Brokaw "David Wise is a master of the nonfiction thriller and, once again, he delivers a fact-filled inside account, with sources named and no one spared, including some very amorous and reckless FBI agents. There is an important message in Tiger Trap -- about the often overlooked threat posed by China's demonstrated ability to dig out America's most important military and economic secrets."
-Seymour M. Hersh "David Wise has given us a rare combination in today's literary world -- a book that is great reading, while at the same time shedding light on a subject whose seriousness should concern every thinking American."
- Jim Webb, U.S. Senator from Virginia, author of Born Fighting, Fields of Fire "Extraordinary. A stunningly detailed history of China's spy war with us - from sexy socialite double agents to "kill switches" implanted offshore in the computer chips for our electric grid. Wise remains the master."
– R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence "Forget Moscow rules, Lubyanka Prison, and KGB assassins. Today’s most threatening web of spies is spun out of Beijing and reaches from Silicon Valley to the Pentagon. David Wise has written a dead-on accurate narrative of major PRC cases against American targets. He names names, details agent tradecraft, and takes you into the courtroom and even a jail cell to witness the final unraveling of these sensational cases. You will never think about Chinese espionage the same way again. " - Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the International Spy Museum
About the Author
DAVID WISE's bestselling books on espionage and national security include Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America , Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million, and The Invisible Government .
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Wise contributes new information in a couple of areas. He adds more detail about Gwo-Bao Min (Tiger Trap) than was previously available and weaves together the disparate threads connecting Chinese espionage allegations on West Coast. Wise fills in some of the gaps left in previous treatments. Wise also pulls together a good deal of information on the recent espionage cases in the last five years, which would only be available to a lay reader after several hours of research.
Unfortunately, Wise chooses not to take a step and look at the information he so assiduously collected. Instead, he relies on retired FBI agents, who repeat old platitudes about Chinese intelligence methods----platitudes that may never have been true to begin with. This might be tolerable if Wise himself had not collected a lot of data contradicting his opening chapter. Most Western observers believe Chinese intelligence methods are wildly different than Western or Russian models. They think, among other points, China relies on amateur collectors rather than professional intelligence officers, does not pay for secret information, and does not develop formal intelligence relationships.
Yet Wise charts the tale of the Chinese intelligence officer at the heart of recent espionage cases, involving Chi Mak, Kuo Tai-shen, James Fondren, and Gregg Bergersen. Chinese intelligence recruited these sources and paid them in exchange for US defense secrets. Why did they spy? Greed. Venality. One might be tempted to forgive Wise's reliance on out-dated analysis if these were new developments. However, Wise also provides a short summary of the Larry Wu-Tai Chin case, who spied from the 1940s to 1985. The Chin case looks and feels like one of the many cases run across the NATO-Warsaw Pact divide.
No coverage of Chinese intelligence today would be complete without a section on cyber (hacking), but there is little in Wise's treatment to commend. The cyber chapter is a summary of news clippings and official commentary. For better analyses of Chinese cyber activity, academic and policy journals, like Survival (IISS) and International Affairs, offer accessible (jargon-free) and thoughtful treatments that put Chinese cyber in perspective.
Ultimately, Tiger Trap is a good read with some new information about Chinese espionage cases; however, it is unsatisfying for anyone looking for anything that goes beyond the headlines. If there were more choices for reading about Chinese intelligence, this book would probably only rate 2/5 stars. There are, unfortunately, few alternatives to Wise's book and he should be recognized for mostly sticking to facts in the espionage cases. This redeeming feature makes Tiger Trap a useful reference guide and the clean writing makes it an easy read.
China's more traditional espionage activity has been less well covered and that is the subject of this book which ranges in time from the possible 1960s affair of Richard Nixon with a Chinese agent to 2009 espionage prosecutions. Wise bounces back and forth in time as he covers two major cases of Chinese espionage: a double agent for both the FBI and the MSS - China's organization for gathering foreign intelligence - and a Chinese-American scientist suspected of providing details of America's most sophisticated nuclear weapons to China. Because Chinese espionage operations often seem to overlap somewhere, these two cases, code named Parlor Maid and Tiger Trap respectively, also introduce us to other cases including perhaps the most famous - the matter of the reputedly innocent Wen Ho Lee.
There are several points of interest in Wise's caroming narrative.
First, while Wise cites the often heard metaphor that Chinese intelligence operates by dispatching a horde of agents against a target, each collecting a tiny bit of intelligence, rather than the high tech methods of American intelligence gathering, what is more interesting is the criteria for their agents. They chose not to deal with emotionally damaged people who have sex, drug, and money problems or operate out of a desire for revenge. (Though some recent Chinese spy prosecutions seem to partly contradict this.) They opt for "good people", often Chinese immigrants who want to help their "mother country", or those with an interest in Chinese culture. For their help, they have China's gratitude and help in business dealings.
Second, while the book does not have the space or inclination to confront the notion of possible dual loyalties in first generation Chinese immigrants to America, it does show both sides of the issue. Wen Ho Lee hardly comes across as the innocent that immigrant and civil rights groups would have us believe (though the conditions of his confinement were unnecessarily harsh). In the matter of spies, lack of a criminal conviction for espionage is hardly proof of innocence. On the other hand, engineer Jeffery Wang had his career disrupted and nearly ruined when falsely accused of spying to say nothing of the punishment meted out to an FBI agent who insisted on his innocence. Furthermore, some Chinese spies were actually Taiwanese citizens.
Third is the little known case of Larry Wu-Tai Chin, a mole in the CIA for almost thirty years.
The dramatic core of the book, despite not directly involving nuclear secrets, is the Parlor Maid case. We see two experienced FBI counterintelligence agents become lost, as the inevitable - if beautiful - stock phrase has it , in "the wilderness of mirrors" as they managed Katrina Leung, informant, sometime bed partner of both, and known MSS agent for at least 10 years of their relationship. Despite his research, Wise can't give us a final answer on this disastrous lapse in judgement.
Wise's prose reads fast. His history is well-sourced with notes and an index. My only stylistic complaint is that perhaps more specific dates should have been used rather than phrases like "November of that year" or a flat out timeline should have been presented in a glossary.
Still, it's a worthwhile look at the seldom covered subject of Chinese espionage and the psychological and tactical complexities of running counterintelligence agents.
There's been a lot made recently in the popular press about cyberwarfare likely linked to Chinese sources, and the less covered state-sponsored (or at least sanctioned) intellectual property theft also is worth some attention. Regrettably, Tiger Trap barely covers either of these genuinely germane issues. There's certainly material out there on the subject, but Wise adds very little if any new insight on it.
Instead, Tiger Trap focuses on a couple of cases that are several decades old, most prominently a Chinese double agent who infiltrated the FBI. As such, dated tales of poorly supervised FBI agents and a glaring lack of intelligence resources devoted to the PRC 30 years ago aren't particularly compelling. One slightly redeeming footnote is the Wen Ho Lee case, where Wise points out just how badly the FBI and the DOE bungled things - the actual charges eventually brought against Lee are shown to be ludicrous - but whose conduct elsewhere appears extraordinarily suspicious and whose employment in a job requiring security clearance is a condemnation of the cooperation among intelligence agencies prior to September 11th.
Still, there are worthwhile insights here, and give credit to the author for not marketing a sensationalistic book. It's just that it could have been a lot better had Wise spent as much time in the last few years as he did in the past. 3 stars.
The book suffers somewhat from Wise's tendency to beat you over the head with reminders of who's who and from his hamfisted writing style (for instance: "There were 'anomalies,' as counterintelligence agents call suspicious or unexplained problems," or "He felt a little like the lone sheriff in High Noon. But this wasn't a Hollywood western. If he screwed up, Mueller would know just whom to blame"). The book also has a strong bias on FBI/CIA sources with little attention paid to the Chinese perspective. That may have been inevitable but it is a loss.
The introductory thesis also seems to have been written for a different book. Wise contends that the Chinese MSS, unlike the CIA or KGB, prefers to gather information from the many Chinese students, tourists, and businesspeople who travel to the US every year, rather than relying on moles or defectors. It may or may not be true, but nothing related in the book supports that thesis (in fact, the cases cited would seem to show just the opposite), making its inclusion bizarre.
Ultimately, this book is worth reading only if you are interested in the subject matter, as the craft leaves something to be desired.
Tiger Trap, as the title suggests, is about Chinese spying rather than the Russian spying that has captivated the American imagination for the past half century. Why this arena has been largely neglected by publishers is hard to say, but it's every bit as fascinating. The author presents exceptional detail, all of which is the result of exhaustive research and almost five hundred interviews.
In addition to providing what is really an inside look at some Chinese espionage cases (and the bungling done by the folks whose job it was to protect USA national secrets), Mr. Wise contrasts the Chinese system to the Russian system. One point of contrast, for example, is the Chinese spy operations tend to be inter-related and entangled. A person who understand Chinese culture will understand why this is so, and will also understand why the Chinese methods are so very different from the Russian ones. Mr. Wise provides some interesting insights on these differences.
Something I liked about this book is that, despite addressing a national security topic, the author didn't try to use the book to proselytize for one wing of The Party (Demopublicans) or the other. In fact, he didn't hold himself up as an armchair expert with any solutions at all. What he did was present the cases, as factually as possible.
He does this in an engaging, "turn the page" style. He had me hooked from the first paragraph of the Prelude. Part of that was the actual subject matter. You just cannot make this stuff up! Part of it was also in how he chose to write. By that, I mean exciting and fast-paced, rather than dry. While this book is academically rigorous, it's not academically boring. Quite the opposite. This book is so exciting and intriguing that it's hard to put down before you finish it.
The author stops short of rendering any judgments. For example, he could have referred to the FBI as the Federal Bureau of Incompetence and been justified in that remark based on these cases. But he's not out to criticize anyone. The author has no agenda, here. And that's the essence of good nonfiction; you just can't see the author's personal views in the writing.
While it appears this book doesn't provide any practical lessons (i.e., something you can apply to your own life), it does help us taxpayers to be more informed about what is actually happening on the international scene. While I try to ignore our state-run media, other people repeat the disinformation they get from it. I haven't heard them talk about Chinese espionage, so I am guessing you won't get this information from television or the newspapers. But you'll find it in this book, and you will consequently have a solid understanding of the situation. It's a situation that is costing the USA bigtime in lost jobs and excess military spending.
I believe it's acceptable to extrapolate from these cases what is probably going on in our own federal government (or, more accurately, what poses as a government--it doesn't actually govern or else the Pentagon Acquisitions program would not be burning $21 million an hour with only 5% of that resulting in fieldable weapons). If spying and betrayal can be done between governments, it can happen within governments. So if you're looking for something practical, you can think in those terms. The author wasn't making any such claim, so don't infer that from what I just said.
Something else the author brings up is the decades long prejudice in the USA against the Chinese. Astute scholars of US history will recall that The Party formed as a consequence of "The Chinese Problem" in California during the Reconstruction fiasco that followed the war between the states (It was a war of secession, not a civil war, according to US Grant and he is a pretty reliable source having led the Union forces to victory).
The anti-Chinese laws that were placed on the books stayed there for decades. If I recall correctly, the last repeal was in the 1950s. Some of the laws banned any Chinese immigration at all. So, you cannot blame Chinese people for being less than thrilled with the USA. The author doesn't explain why those idiotic, unconstitutional (and thus illegal) laws were enacted. His doing so would have been outside the scope of this book. Another book that does explain is "Driven Out" (yes, it's available right here on Amazon). It might make a good complement to this book, if you are interested in a longer view of things.
Having extensively studied Chinese martial arts and other aspects of this very ancient culture, I'm pleased to have read an accurate account of Chinese espionage in the USA. Of course, I wish the Chinese didn't spy on us. But they do, and this book provides an intriguing, informative, primary-research based view of that effort.
I reviewed the advance reading copy, so the actual page count of the final copy may differ from the 246 page version I read. Its Notes section may also differ from the 30 pages of research notes (really a "source-ography") in my copy. The text consists of twenty two chapters, a prelude, and author's notes. The book also contains the research notes I just mentioned. My copy doesn't have an index, but the final one does.
Add this book to your collection. Share it with friends. You'll have hours of interesting conversations.