Chinese Nationals Gain Unauthorised Access To Us Military Installations

Chinese nationals, occasionally assuming the guise of tourists, have managed to gain unauthorized access to U.S. military installations and other sensitive locations on as many as 100 occasions in recent years, according to reports from U.S. officials. These incidents are viewed as a potential threat to national security due to their espionage implications.

To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other relevant agencies conducted a comprehensive review last year with the aim of curtailing such breaches. These individuals, often referred to as “gate-crashers,” attempt, whether intentionally or inadvertently, to enter U.S. military bases and other facilities without proper authorization. Instances range from Chinese nationals found crossing into a U.S. missile range in New Mexico to suspected scuba divers spotted near a U.S. government rocket-launch site in Florida.

U.S. officials believe that these incidents, categorized as a form of espionage, are orchestrated to assess the security protocols in place at U.S. military installations and federal sites. Those involved in these activities are typically Chinese nationals acting under compulsion, reporting back to the Chinese government. Concerns surrounding these intrusions have been exacerbated by escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, particularly following an incident involving a Chinese surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace earlier this year.

While the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have declined to comment on the matter, the Pentagon has issued a broad response acknowledging the issue. The FBI, however, has stated unequivocally that the Chinese government is engaged in a multifaceted campaign of theft and malign influence that disregards international norms and laws, and the FBI will not tolerate it.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington has challenged the U.S. perspective on these incidents, dismissing the claims as unfounded and driven by ill intentions. They urge

U.S. officials to abandon a Cold War mentality and cease baseless accusations in favor of actions that enhance mutual trust and friendship between the two nations.

The seriousness of these incidents has prompted discussions within Congress about potential legislation to address the issue. Representative Jason Crow of Colorado, a member of the intelligence committee, expressed concerns that many of these cases fall into jurisdictional gaps since most trespassing laws are state and local, rather than federal. He emphasized the need for collaboration with state and local partners to equip them with the necessary training and resources to handle such situations.

While some incursions may be benign, such as individuals claiming to follow navigation apps to fast-food restaurants located within military bases, others raise more significant concerns, according to sources familiar with the review.

Instances have been cited in which Chinese nationals have purported to have reservations at on-base hotels. In a recent case, a group of Chinese tourists attempted to bypass security at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, asserting they had reservations at a commercial hotel on the base, which is home to the Army’s 11th Airborne Division specializing in Arctic warfare. These incidents often occur in

remote areas with minimal tourism activity, making them more suspicious. The individuals involved employ scripted language when confronted by security personnel, and when stopped, they claim to be tourists who have lost their way.

The issue of low-level Chinese intelligence collection through such tactics is well- recognized in intelligence circles. Emily Harding, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former deputy staff director at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, characterizes it as a numbers game. She notes that China’s willingness to deploy large numbers of individuals for intelligence collection gives them an advantage. If a few are apprehended, it becomes challenging for the U.S. government to prove more than trespassing, while those who avoid detection can potentially gather valuable information.

Furthermore, the base penetrations represent a growing and concerning trend, according to U.S. military and other officials. In some instances, individuals have gained unauthorized access to bases by speeding through security checkpoints, leading to criminal citations, bans on future access, and removal from the premises.

The Pentagon has conducted multiple base security reviews since 2018, some in collaboration with other agencies. A recent review focused on enhancing the physical security of approximately 1,400 entry gates at U.S. military bases and other aspects of base security, with the findings informing changes to security measures.

While no espionage charges have been filed in any of these cases, there have been instances where individuals who trespassed on bases were briefly detained and subsequently escorted out of the country. In one case in 2019, two Chinese diplomats were expelled from the U.S. over suspicions of espionage after they improperly entered Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Va., a highly sensitive U.S.
military facility used for Navy SEAL training. China denied any espionage involvement by the diplomats and their spouses.