China has strenuously denied President Bush’s charge that Chinese technicians helped Iraq set up its improved anti-air defense system around Baghdad. Wednesday, March 7, a spokesman in Beijing warned Washington to “rein in” its “wild horse” behavior before relations are damaged.
In the face of Chinese contradictions, President Bush and US intelligence stand firm by the information they have that Chinese technicians, even army officers, are installing optic fiber lines to enhance Iraq’s air defense systems in Baghdad. These fibers fool attempts to track Iraqi air defense communications and radar installations. US AWACs spyplanes and regional electronic tracking stations cannot “read” data passing through optical fibers, especially when they are buried underground. The only equipment capable of tracking data traffic through optic fibers is prohibitively expensive, even for the US.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s technical experts explain the problem: The fibers connect with the computers operating the air defense system through small “routers”, inside which they are coated with miniscule quantities of copper. US tracking equipment might identify the copper and “read” the data passing through the optic fibers, if the routers themselves were not almost too small to be picked up.
This issue has provoked the Bush administration’s first showdown with the Beijing government. Both sides show great sensitivity to aspersions against their credibility.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say the information in the US president’s hands about the presence of Chinese workers and officers is accurate. But so too is the Chinese spokesman’s claim that China is not formally involved in installing an optic fiber system in Baghdad.
Washington will continue to accuse China of breaking UN sanctions by helping improve Iraq’s ability to fire missiles at US and British warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones, and Beijing will continue to assert that is not. If Bush sticks to his guns, his version will win.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, roughly 7-8,000 Chinese “workers” are employed in different parts of Iraq at this moment. Those workers are in fact Chinese servicemen with some 900 officers, ranking from colonel down to lieutenant colonel, major, captain and lieutenant. Around 750 are employed in installing optic fibers, around 3000 in Iraq’s oil fields and the same number build Iraqi army barracks and military-industrial facilities.
Beijing cannot render this work force invisible but insists they are not servicemen. This is not entirely untrue. They really are recorded in official Chinese Interior Ministry records as emigrant laborers who send their wage packets back to their families in China. The Iraqi contingent is actually registered as resident in Paris and Lyon, having been imported by French manpower companies. Those “workers” spend no more than a few hours on French soil, before being flown out to the Persian Gulf, where the United Arab Emirates or Qatar puts them on planes to Iraq.
Technically, Beijing can claim it is innocent of directly helping Iraq’s military effort in violation of UN sanctions.
But that is not the end of the story. A DEBKA-Net-Weekly investigation in Beijing found that behind this pretense of innocence, the Chinese government knows precisely where its army units are posted, exercises tight control over their day-to-day actions from the moment they become labor contingents, and claims the lion’s share of their wages. The men and their officers are also monitored by the Chinese intelligence agency, MSS.
For the first time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly is able to describe how the system works.
When an army unit is selected to become a foreign labor force by the Chinese high army command, on the advice of the foreign ministry and MSS, it is transferred to Beijing for lengthy re-initiation. That process starts at the military intelligence headquarters (“Second Department”) in the northern part of the capital and continues with three to four days of screening. After that, the men are moved to the intelligence “workers” department, which is located in Tian’an Men Square, between the Palace Hotel and the Beijing Hotel. Here, the officers are detached and passed on to the MSS Overseas Department, where they are screened again and given their passports.
The transfer and overseas placement of any particular Chinese (military) work force are handled by Chinese manpower companies subordinate to Chinese intelligence, in collaboration with Western overseas manpower firms, chiefly in France, Germany and Israel.
When a labor unit reaches the country in which it is employed, it passes under the supervision of a local Chinese army staff team, composed of between 5 and 8 officers and a group of engineers, accountants, technical clerks and Chinese medics. This team poses as a Chinese manpower agency.
The Chinese contingents in any country are lodged together in one building, which is run by a Chinese army lieutenant on the lines of a Chinese army barrack, with maintenance staff that also cares for provisions and meals. The contingents themselves are divided into squads of 10 men, each commanded by a sergeant who is subordinate to the building’s commanding officer. Discipline is strict and breaches punishable with fines or house arrest.
The soldiers’ passports are held in the national command headquarters of a given country and handed out only against approval of furlough from the building’s commander.
No more than 15 pc of their pay goes into the men’s pockets for cigarettes and small expenses. The bulk goes to Beijing, 45 pc set aside for the men’s’ families and 55 pc to the MSS.
With this setup, Beijing can claim it has never assigned officers and troops to helping Iraqi improve its air defense and is guilty not so much of lying as of concealing the truth. If President Bush wants to prove his point, he will have to publicize the information appearing here for the first time.