That’s according to James M. Olson, former chief of counterintelligence with the CIA, who told The Post that the Chinese government has accelerated its spy recruitment efforts. He “conservatively” estimated that China has more than 100 intelligence officers operating in the city at any given time.
“Their spy program is massive,” said Olson. “They aggressively mine social media and look for Chinese-Americans who have affection for Mother China.”
That seems to be the case with NYPD Officer Baimadajie Angwang. A nationalized US citizen of Tibetan descent, he was arrested on Monday and revealed as an alleged spy for China. A former Marine, US Army Reserve staff sergeant and a 2018 “Cop of the Month,” the 33-year-old faces charges including unlawfully acting as an agent of a foreign government, wire fraud and making false statements.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Post China’s NYC consulate is being used as a major hub for the Communist nation’s US espionage efforts — and that it’s likely more arrests will be coming.
Olson described Angwang as a potential “gold mine” for China.
“Police, military, counterintelligence are very big targets,” said Olson, who teaches intelligence and counterintelligence at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. “The Chinese would have great interest in somebody with the NYPD who can get records, provide traces, find out who is under investigation. They probably had a tip-off and found a way to cozy up.”
For the recruitment process, China’s intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security, will initiate contact via a person who has ties to target’s previous life back home, said H. Keith Melton, co-author of “Spy Sites of New York City” and a historical consultant to the CIA. “They invite the [recruit] for dinner, maybe take him to the opera and eventually ask him to do one gray thing for the good of China.”
Olson explained: “People are convinced that what they are doing will not be harmful to US interests — even though, of course, it is,” he said. “China has multiple spies working on a particular project. So [an agent] may be getting small pieces of information, which seem inconsequential, but are part of a larger plan.”
With Angwang, Olson opined, “They would use him to find out what the NYPD is doing in terms of surveillance, the databases they have, what they are learning about China’s UN representatives and consulate officials.”
One potential tell was that Angwang took multiple trips home to China despite settling in America as an asylum-seeker.
“Handlers may suggest coming to China for debriefing, compensation and to receive intelligence-collection requirements. That will allow for them to meet with [the spy] on their own turf where he can be assessed, wined and dined, treated like a VIP,” said Olson. “[Spying] will be couched as helping out your fellow Chinese.”
According to information from wiretaps, Angwang told one of his handlers about taking an NYPD exam that could lead to a promotion, saying he was doing it “for the people back home.”
“If you have family in China” — as Angwang does, including two parents who reportedly belong to the Communist Party — “they will use that as leverage. Family members can be granted favors or not. It’s a rough game,” Olson said. “They figure out what kind of assistance you need, whether it be visas so you can see your family, scholarships, money.”
Olson, the author of “To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence,” said Angwang “could have been earning thousands of dollars per month.” Per the complaint, he “received multiple substantial wire transfers” from China.
While authorities have not revealed how Angwang’s alleged activities were found out, Olson said: “It could be that he was indiscreet; maybe he bragged to people or maybe he spent his money carelessly.”
And it’s not like China will come to his rescue.
“He’s been abandoned. But this is the cost of doing business,” Olson explained, based on his experience in such matters. “The Chinese have so many assets in the United States that they can afford to lose a few.”