Even inside the U.S., the surveillance can be brazen. During a meeting between senior U.S. military officials and a Chinese military delegation several months ago at the Pentagon, one of the Chinese generals didn’t hide his efforts to record the meeting, pointing his large watch in the direction of the Americans whenever they spoke, according to two officials familiar with details of the meeting.
That story is among the anecdotes detailed in a recent internal report by the Defense Department and the intelligence community about the threat of surveillance inside the Pentagon.
Defense Department spokesman Chris Sherwood declined to discuss the report, saying, “We don’t comment on intel nor on specific threat reports.”
According to Daniel Russel, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, “all’s fair in love, war and espionage.”
Russel, who is now vice president at the Asia Society, added: “There’s an awful lot that the Chinese do to us that we do, or try to do, to them. But as technology improves, the capabilities of the Chinese to collect become increasingly sophisticated.
“The real story is the incredible acceleration of technology, artificial intelligence, data gathering and monitoring.”
Cellphones can also be vulnerable. After President Barack Obama’s first trip to China in 2009, one of his national security advisers had to throw away a Blackberry device because the Chinese had penetrated it, a former administration official said.
Trump’s reported use of non-secure cell phones in the White House is a massive security risk, experts say. Because smart phones can be turned into bugs and location tracking devices, Obama was not allowed to have one until 2016, and even then, he joked about how little functionality it had.
It’s been widely reported that Trump has rebuffed efforts by security officials to get him to use a secure mobile device, and he has been using standard-issue smart phones for Twitter and to place calls.
The Washington Post reported this week that the Department of Homeland Security has found evidence of the use of sophisticated technology to intercept cell phone calls outside the White House, a type of technology that is available commercially and U.S. officials say Chinese and other foreign intelligence agencies regularly use.
One former senior U.S. official said the Chinese have good intelligence collection operations in Singapore.
“What they would want to get is to know what people in the meetings said and what happened,” the official said, and to get inside U.S. government officials’ phones and computers.