published : 2023-09-05

Chinese Nationals Posing as Tourists Spark Espionage Concerns at US Military Sites: FBI Report

Growing Trend of 'Gate Crashers' Breaches Security Practices

A photo of a group of Chinese tourists exploring a famous U.S. military base. [Taken with Nikon D850]

The FBI and Department of Defense have tracked over 100 incidents of Chinese nationals posing as tourists in an attempt to breach U.S. military bases and federal sites.

Dubbed 'gate crashers,' these individuals have been detected crossing into a U.S. missile range in New Mexico and caught swimming near a government rocket launch site in Florida.

Authorities believe the Chinese government is compelling nationals into service to test and report on security practices at these installations, raising concerns of espionage.

An FBI spokesperson stated that the Chinese government poses the greatest long-term counterintelligence threat to the U.S., engaging in theft and malign influence without regard for laws or international norms.

The FBI, in coordination with defense and intelligence partners, is committed to protecting national security and defense information from China's efforts to undermine democracy.

An image capturing the surveillance equipment used by the FBI to track Chinese nationals posing as tourists. [Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV]

Efforts to deter these incidents have been undertaken by the FBI, Defense Department, and other agencies.

While some incidents may be benign, others have involved Chinese nationals claiming to have reservations at hotels on military bases or attempting to force their way past guards.

Defense Department spokesperson emphasized the importance of physical security standards for bases, along with collaboration between law enforcement, intelligence community, and foreign partners.

Incidents of Chinese nationals posing as tourists have occurred in rural areas and their scripted language often involves claiming to be lost tourists.

Experts describe this low-level intelligence collection as a numbers game, where the Chinese government throws numerous people at collection activities, knowing that catching a few individuals will be difficult to prove anything beyond trespassing.

A photograph showing the security measures at a U.S. military installation to prevent unauthorized access. [Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III]

Concerns have been raised in Congress, with discussions on potential legislation to address the growing number of incidents falling under state and local trespassing laws.

Repeat incidents have been reported at an intelligence center in Key West, Florida, and at a U.S. Army range near White Sands National Park.

Chinese nationals have also been found scuba diving off Cape Canaveral, home to the Kennedy Space Center.

While few espionage charges have resulted from these cases, the Chinese government's treatment of similar incidents within its borders contrasts with the leniency offered in the U.S.