The FBI and Department of Defense have reportedly identified more than 100 instances of Chinese nationals posing as tourists in an attempt to access U.S. military bases and federal facilities.
These individuals, referred to as “gate crashers,” have engaged in various activities, from Chinese nationals being detected near a U.S. missile range in New Mexico to scuba divers found in the vicinity of a U.S. government rocket launch site in Florida, as per several U.S. officials who recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal. This growing trend is seen as a potential espionage threat, with suspicions that the Chinese government, in some cases, is compelling its nationals to gather information and report on security measures at these installations.
Responding to the report, an FBI spokesperson emphasized, “The greatest long-term counterintelligence threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property is from China.” They further stated that the FBI is committed to protecting national security and defense information from Chinese government actions that aim to undermine democracy.
A review involving the FBI, Defense Department, and other agencies was conducted late last year to address these incidents, although it remains unknown how many were benign in nature. Some Chinese nationals have claimed they were merely following Google Maps to the nearest fast-food restaurant located on a nearby military base.
However, more concerning incidents have occurred, such as Chinese nationals asserting they had reservations at a hotel on a military base. Recently, a group of Chinese nationals attempted to enter Fort Wainwright, Alaska, claiming they had hotel reservations on the base, according to the Journal. Fort Wainwright houses the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division, focusing on Arctic warfare.
A Defense Department spokesperson emphasized the importance of physical security standards for military bases and collaboration with various law enforcement agencies and foreign partners to safeguard installations.
The spokesperson stated, “Every day DoD conducts more than 10,000 ‘controlled turnarounds’ of individuals who arrive at one of our 1400 gates. These individuals are not authorized access and depart the installations without having gained unauthorized access… a very small number warrant an investigation. The incidents are generally low-level, and so far none of them indicate espionage.”
Despite the potential security concerns, these incidents are typically categorized as trespassing, a low-level offense that would not be treated the same way if Americans were caught engaging in similar activities in China.
Rep. Jason Crow, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that Congress might consider legislation on this issue, as most trespassing laws are state and local rather than federal.
Repeat incidents involving Chinese nationals have been observed at various locations, including Key West, Florida, where individuals were found swimming near an intelligence center, and at a U.S. Army range near White Sands National Park, where Chinese nationals crossed into a missile site to take photographs. Another incident involved Chinese nationals scuba diving off Cape Canaveral, home to the Kennedy Space Center.
While some cases have led to expulsions or prison sentences, few have resulted in espionage charges.