The federal government is investigating over 100 incidents in recent years in which Chinese nationals illegally gained access to, or tried to gain access to, U.S. military installations, often by posing as tourists, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The FBI and Defense Department have launched a probe into these incidents, which are being described as “gatecrashing” — in some senses, almost literally, the report said.
The attempts to get onto bases are being made amid a period of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, which have escalated trade restrictions on each other, some of the most recent being Biden administration-imposed blockades on U.S. semiconductor technology being used in China, according to the Journal.
In many of the gatecrashing incidents, Chinese nationals posed as tourists and hung out in isolated, rural areas just close enough to U.S. military bases to take pictures of sensitive technology, the Journal wrote.
Examples cited in the report included Chinese nationals posing as snorkelers on a beach in Florida and photographing a military rocket launch site. Others were caught wandering near bases and said they were tourists with reservations at a nearby hotel, or claimed they were just following Google Maps to an on-base McDonald’s or Burger King without realizing it was in a restricted area.
But in other incidents, they actually gained direct access to the bases themselves, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough, “often by speeding through security checkpoints … these individuals are often cited criminally, barred from future installation access and escorted off-base.”
China denies any of the reported incidents are espionage attempts, with Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu saying, “The relevant claims are purely ill-intentioned fabrications. We urge the relevant U.S. officials to abandon the Cold War mentality, stop groundless accusations, and do more things that are conducive to enhancing mutual trust between the two countries and friendship between the two peoples.”
However, the report comes amid other Chinese-related security breaches, most notably a spy balloon that earlier this year traveled across much of the U.S. mainland before being shot down off the Atlantic coast.