On Monday, new reports from the United States FBI and Department of Defense tracked around 100 incidents of Chinese nationals posing as tourists to try and breach American military bases and other critical federal sites.
According to officials, the individuals, known as “gate crashers,” include Chinese nationals who crossed into an American missile range in New Mexico and scuba divers who swam near a U.S. government rocket launch site in Florida.
Officials say the growing trend represents a potential espionage threat from the Chinese government, which is trying to compel nationals into service to test out and report about security practices at American installations.
Last year, the FBI, Pentagon, and other government agencies led a review around preventing such activities. Officials do not know how many incidents were friendly in nature. One instance included U.S. officials finding Chinese nationals claiming to try and follow Google Maps to the nearest McDonald’s or Burger King near a U.S. military base.
Another incident included Chinese nationals arriving in the U.S. saying they had a hotel reservation near a military base. Another group of Chinese nationals claiming to be tourists tried to force their way past guards at Fort Wainwright, home to the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division centered on Arctic warfare, claiming they had reservations at a commercial hotel on the base.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, a Pentagon spokesperson said that in some cases, Chinese nationals have achieved unauthorized access to military bases by speeding through security checkpoints. In those incidents, they are “often cited criminally, barred from future installation access, and escorted off-case,” the spokesperson told the Journal.
Officials added that other instances have occurred in rural areas where tourism is less common and away from commercial airports.
A former Senate Intelligence Committee official told the Journal that such actions are low-level Chinese intelligence collection.
The former official outlined how the Chinese government will throw numerous people at intelligence gathering despite knowing if a few get caught.
Chinese officials know it will be difficult for the U.S. government to prove anything nefarious beyond trespassing.
Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that Congress might consider legislation on the issue amid growing incidents and that most trespassing laws are state and local.
Continuous Incidents have happened at an intelligence center in Key West, Florida, going back several years ago involving Chinese nationals found swimming in nearby waters and taking pictures.
Officials said other incidents occurred at a U.S. Army range where Chinese nationals claiming to be tourists at nearby White Sands National Park crossed into a U.S. missile site and took pictures.
Other Chinese nationals were caught scuba diving off Cape Canaveral, home to the Kennedy Space Center, which has a launch site for spy satellites and other military missions.
The incident is currently under investigation by U.S. officials.
U.S. officials also say Chinese nationals at the White House took tours to take photographs of the grounds, communications equipment, and position of the Secret Service.