A Chinese “tourist” accused of espionage is the latest example of a growing threat to US security

Quartz – by Justin Rohrlich

On June 28, 2019, Qingshan Li landed in Southern California on a flight from China. Li, a Chinese national visiting the US on a tourist visa, was scheduled to return home 10 days later.

The day after he arrived, Li drove his rental car to a storage facility in the San Diego area. There, he met up with an unidentified person named in court filings only as “AB,” from whom Li had arranged to purchase several pieces of sensitive military gear.

Li’s case, which has not been previously reported and is described in a federal charging document obtained by Quartz, is among the most recent incidents of Chinese civilians accused of spying on behalf of Beijing. While Li was apprehended by authorities, he represents the immediate—and increasing—threat China poses to US national security, say experts.

One of the items Li was allegedly after, a Harris Falcon III AN/PRC 152A radio, is designated as a defense article on the United States Munitions List, and subject to international arms trafficking regulations. This means the Falcon III, which provides US troops in the field with National Security Agency-certified encrypted communications, cannot leave the country without a special license issued by the State Department.

Li had agreed to pay AB a total of 50,000 renminbi, or roughly $7,200, for the radio. He knew AB was already under investigation for export-related crimes and believed AB “was attempting to get rid of the radio in light of AB’s entanglement with law enforcement,” according to court filings.

Li told AB he planned to drive with the Falcon III to Tijuana, Mexico—about 30 minutes by car from San Diego—and ship it to China from there. This, Li reportedly thought, would help him skirt American trafficking laws. He gave AB a $600 down payment for the radio, and left the storage facility carrying it in a shoulder bag.

It is unclear from the court record whether AB was cooperating with authorities, or if they had become aware of Li’s activities during their ongoing monitoring of AB’s conversations, but the FBI was waiting for Li outside the building. Agents intercepted him immediately after the transaction with AB was completed. Li, they soon discovered, had a second Harris Falcon III in his possession, several antennas, a digital memory card, and a map of the North Island Naval Air Station, a nearby military base home to two US aircraft carriers.

Read the rest here: https://qz.com/1779627/chinese-tourists-are-being-recruited-to-spy-on-the-us/

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