Thursday, April 17, 2014

Glenn Shriver, espionage, and the slippery slope

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is promoting an old story about a man, Glenn Shriver, who was convicted of espionage on behalf of China. But while this particular story involves the recruitment of a U.S. national by the government of China, the same principles apply to the recruitment of a Russian national by the government of the United States - or the recruitment of Starwoods Hotels executives - and their private information - by Hilton Hotels.

The fascinating part of the story is that Shriver didn't wake up one morning and say to himself, "I want to spy for China." While he admitted to eventually receiving $70,000 for espionage, the whole process started with a simple $120 writing request.

Around October 2004, Shriver—living in Shanghai and financially strapped—responded to an English ad offering to pay individuals to write political papers. A woman named “Amanda” contacted him, met with him several times, and then paid him $120 to write a paper.

This part of Shriver's story was dramatized in a U.S. government video entitled "Game of Pawns" (transcript here). Note how innocuous the conversation sounded at the time.

Amanda: Hi, Glenn.

Shriver: Yes, Amanda. Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Thank you very much for coming. So how do you think the average American views China today?

Shriver: I think China is an enigma to many in our country. There are some who view China with suspicion, even fear, over the way you control your currency and your people, and quite frankly your fantastic economic growth.

Amanda: Well, what do you think?

Shriver: It’s complicated, but I found the people here to be remarkably free, and there is a fantastic entrepreneurial class emerging.

Amanda: You are a very thoughtful and candid young man, qualities I admire. We want to make Shanghai the business center of the world. We want Americans to think of Shanghai first when they expand to China. To do that we need to know how westerners perceive us as a country and as a city.

Shriver: So you want me to write about the business climate here?

Amanda: First, something political. Use your judgment.

Shriver: O.K. Cool.

Shriver wrote papers, Amanda paid him in cash, and things were going well. After a while, Amanda introduced Shriver to some other people.

Amanda introduced him to two associates who said they were interested in developing a “friendship” with him and who began suggesting that he consider applying for U.S. government jobs. Eventually, Shriver realized that the men and Amanda were affiliated with the PRC government; nonetheless he agreed to seek a government job.

And no, Shriver's friends didn't want him to apply to the National Park Service. We're talking about agencies such as the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is a classic example of a slippery slope. A cash-strapped student in Shanghai finds a job that pays, in cash, for just writing some simple papers. Within the space of a few years, the student is receiving tens of thousands of dollars from people whom he knows are foreign agents, and is applying for a job with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

During the CIA application process, Shriver broke several laws:

Shriver ... made false statements on the CIA questionnaire required for employment stating that he had not had any contact with a foreign government or its representative during the last seven years, when in fact he had met in person with one or more of the officers approximately 20 times since 2004. He also deliberately omitted his travel to PRC in 2007 when he received a $40,000 cash payment from the PRC for applying to the CIA. In addition, Shriver made false statements during a series of screening interviews at the CIA, and he admitted he made each of the false statements to conceal his illicit relationship with the PRC intelligence officers.

As the dramatization notes, if Shriver had been successful in getting a job with the CIA, his Chinese "friends" had already acquired enough information about him to blackmail him into doing anything they wanted.

Which is why the name of the government dramatization is "Game of Pawns."

To be fair, I should note that some people were not as impressed with the video as I was. Business Insider:

The movie ends up being unintentionally hilarious, as many government-sponsored ostensibly cultural artifacts tend to be. It basically looks like an updated version of the shlocky anti-Soviet films the government used to pump out during the Cold War.

Plus, it's nearly a half hour long.

The Wall Street Journal:

What are those bizarre orange candelabras decorating tables in the restaurant where the actor-as-Shriver dines with his attractive Chinese female handler? Why are there large swaths of red fabric randomly draped around Mr. Shriver’s campus? (Presumably they’re there to remind the viewer that this is China, not the U.S.?)

As some observers have pointed out, most glaringly of all, the film actually appears to have been shot in downtown D.C.’s Chinatown, not Shanghai — perhaps because the U.S. government decided it wasn’t a great use of taxpayer money to do an on-site shoot.

Um, I don't think that China would have ALLOWED an on-site shoot.

And I still believe that this video is better than the IRS "Star Trek" video and some other government videos that have been produced over the years.
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