Red Chinese Spies: Another Benefit Of Immigration
The New Yorker May 16, 2014 by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
In the magazine earlier this month, I wrote about Greg Chung, a Chinese-American engineer at Boeing who worked on NASA’s space-shuttle program. In 2009, Chung became the first American to be convicted in a jury trial on charges of economic espionage, for passing unclassified technical documents to China.
While reporting the story, I learned a great deal about an earlier investigation involving another Chinese-American engineer, named Chi Mak, who led F.B.I. agents to Greg Chung. The Mak case, which began in 2004, was among the F.B.I.’s biggest counterintelligence investigations, involving intense surveillance that went on for more than a year.
While Chung volunteered his services to China out of what seemed to be love for his motherland, the F.B.I. believed that Mak was a trained operative who had been planted in the U.S. by Chinese intelligence. Beginning in 1988, Mak had worked at Power Paragon, a defense company in Anaheim, California, that developed power systems for the U.S. Navy. The F.B.I. suspected that Mak, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong in the late nineteen-seventies, had been passing sensitive military technology to China for years.
His assimilation into American life was limited to the workplace: he and his wife, Rebecca, led a quiet life, never socializing with neighbors. Rebecca was a sullen, stern woman whose proficiency in English had remained poor during her two and a half decades in the United States.
The agents took pictures of other materials: tax returns, travel documents, and an address book listing Mak’s contacts, including several other engineers of Chinese origin living in California. This is where the F.B.I. first came across the name Greg Chung.
The F.B.I. was also watching Chi Mak’s younger brother, Tai Mak, who had moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 2001. Tai was a broadcast engineer for a Hong Kong-based satellite-television channel, Phoenix TV, which is partly owned by the Chinese government. He lived in Alhambra, about twelve miles from Downey, with his wife, Fuk Li, and their two teen-age children, Billy and Shirley.