Host, Steven Clemons:
The United States spies on China as it does on many nations of geostrategic significance – but thus far at least, the Chinese book publishing arena hasn’t yet produced anything as sizzling about its own world of spies and spymasters as David Wise has in his page-turner, Tiger Trap: America’ Secret Spy War with China.
John LeCarre – writing fiction – mastered the art of taking shadows of real world sophisticated spycraft and turning them into some of the best novels of the last generation. What David Wise has done is zero in on and reveal the stories of America’s real George Smiley’s – only problem is that most of them have none of the competence or the layers of complexly organized subterfuge that LeCarre’s principal character had.
Wise tells the story of how creative, well-focused and organized Chinese spies have penetrated deeply into America’s national security establishment – in technology firms, in national weapons laboratories, and into the US national intelligence bureaucracies themselves.
Parlor Maid, Tiger Trap, and other code-named spy damsels cut through America’s intelligence walls with as much effectiveness, if not more, than an army of digital hackers. Wise has extraordinary accounts that read like fiction but which are well researched and documented accounts of the collision between America’s world of secrets and China’s world of wanting to know them. It’s a great book.
My friend Tara McKelvey wrote a review of constrained praise for David Wise’ book on 5 August in the New York Times. She also found the detail of the cases explicated by Wise in Tiger Trap to be riveting – but in the end, she wanted something with a more dispassionate feel that slogged through more detail, more context, perhaps less drama.
Respectfully, I disagree with McKelvey in the sense that it might very well be this sort of page-turning treatment of China’s spies that finally gins up some real interest in a vital subject. Decades ago, the FBI’s inter-agency organized crime task force – largely focused on Southern California – and set up originally, among other objectives, to follow in-bound Japanese and Korean criminal activity and corporate espionage operations kept bumping into Chinese espionage activity – at the weapons labs in New Mexico and Northern California and throughout Southern California’s densely deployed weapons systems production and biotechnology development facilities. And this was before China became “big” in its latest incarnation.
The various campaign finance scandals that first built in California around former California Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy who did huge outreach to various Asian-American voter communities, with a large focus on the Chinese-American community, grew into scandals that severely rocked the Bill Clinton administration in cases such as Indonesia’s Lippo Bank director John Huang and Arkansas restauranteur and Asia Pacific business maven Charlie Trie.
David Wise’s Tiger Trap is so fun to read – but it’s filled with historically consequential material and vignettes that those who want to know about the dark side of superpower relations would be wise to read.
Just one caveat as you join in our discussion today – but also hopefully as you read the book – remember that America does this to China too. David Wise just hasn’t written that book yet.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]