Concern is growing among national security officials over the growing number of incidents caused by fake Chinese tourists trying to access military bases and other strategic locations saying they are stray tourists. According to a report by the Department of Defense, the FBI and other agencies, in recent years there have been about 100 suspected encounters of espionage with so-called gate-crashers.
During my time as the head of counterintelligence and law enforcement at DoD we pleaded with DOJ officials to prosecute these infiltrators. DoJ told us it wasn’t a priority for them. I guess they were more concerned with other things (distractions). https://t.co/pTaw7kZ44a
— Ezra A. Cohen (@EzraACohen) September 4, 2023
Fake tourists on military bases, the White House and even Mar-a-Lago
According to The Wall Street Journal, the alleged tourists have been caught trying to access military bases, including in White House security facilities, without authorization and security teams have expelled them after talking to them. One of the most bizarre situations was experienced with the arrest of a Chinese citizen who managed to sneak into Donald Trump's estate at Mar-a-Lago with two passports, four cell phones and other electronic devices. She was sentenced to eight months in prison.
On almost every occasion, Chinese citizens argued that Google Maps led them there or showed them maps with Mandarin characters indicating to law enforcement that they had been led or gone astray. The latter especially on the occasions when they were detained in bases located in more remote locations, far from commercial airports and even tourist spots.
In addition, several officials denounce that Chinese have been intercepted in the vicinity of sensitive places, such as missile silos or at points where rocket launchers are located. According to the WSJ, several Chinese nationals were located crossing a missile field in New Mexico and even several divers apparently enjoying a pleasant swim in murky waters in Florida... next to a federal government rocket launch point.
Attempt to test the security of the premises
Experts study these cases as an espionage attempt to test the defenses of strategic military installations of the military, as well as that of other sensitive federal sites. Those in charge of these cases point out that intercepted Chinese citizens are obliged to return to China and inform the Communist government of their findings.
The main problem that the authorities face in ending these incidents is how to deal with them. According to experts, those who are arrested can only be charged with trespassing, which is legislated by local and state laws, but not federal ones. In the event of a diplomatic complaint, the Chinese communist government merely shrugs its shoulders and says that these are matters for private citizens. However, if their compatriots manage to leave without being located, they give them information that may be relevant.
Lack of federal legislation limits cracking down on fake tourists in sensitive enclaves
Therefore, several legislators, including Democrat Jason Crow, a member of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, are studying creating federal legislation on the case to prevent these events from coming to nothing, being treated as minor incidents or even unreported. Until that happens, Crow says, "We need to work closely with our state and local partners to train and equip them. Right now, they don't know how to deal with it."
So far, no espionage charges have been filed, although two Chinese diplomats were expelled from the country in 2019 on suspicion of an espionage attempt. Both went without authorization by car, along with their wives, to the Joint Expeditionary Base in Little Creek (Virginia), an especially sensitive military installation where Navy SEALs train.
Chinese Embassy calls it "malicious inventions"
The spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in the US, Liu Pengyu, rejected that the communist Executive is behind these events. Speaking to the WSJ he stressed:
The relevant claims are purely ill-intentioned fabrications. We urge the relevant U.S. officials to abandon the Cold War mentality, stop groundless accusations, and do more things that are conducive to enhancing mutual trust between the two countries and friendship between the two peoples.