Tiger Trap

Title:                  Tiger Trap

Author:                 David Wise

Wise, David (2011). Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

LCCN:    2010042025

UB271.C6 W56 2011



A history of Chinese espionage in America draws on interviews with key FBI and CIA insiders, focusing on two key cases–double agent Katrina Leung and the scientist known as Tiger Trap, who was suspected of stealing nuclear weapons secrets.

Date Updated:  October 24, 2017

Wise, a veteran reporter who has been writing about intelligence since the early 1960s, and who is generally regarded as one of the best investigative journalists in the field, has turned his attention to Chinese espionage, which, according to many knowledgeable insiders, now constitutes the most persistent, aggressive, and expanding espionage threat to the West, and in particular, to the U.S. For various reasons, lack of research data in the public domain among them, not many good books on Chinese espionage are available.

Wise has clearly drawn on extensive interviews with FBI counterintelligence officers who worked the Chinese target and he details a string of about a dozen Chinese espionage cases, several of them interrelated, clustered on the West Coast. These cases reinforce the old CIA adage that few cases stand alone – there are often links between them. A number of cases were broken when CIA abroad accepted and nurtured defectors and walk-ins, and secured leads, sometimes fragmentary, that required in some years of investigation. Some never made it to court. For example, the FBI suspected that Guo Bao Min, an engineer at Livermore Lawrence Laboratory, had passed details of the neutron bomb to China, but the Justice Department declined to authorize an arrest. Most embarrassing for the FBI was the penetration of their Chinese operations by their own long-term double agent, Katrina Leung (PARLOR MAID) who was a Chinese “turn-around” double agent, and who was concurrently sleeping with her two senior FBI handlers, neither of whom apparently knew the other was sharing her charms. Leung was, of course, soaking up and eliciting information from both. She also filched classified documents from the briefcase of one handler after lovemaking session in her bedroom, all of which she was passing to her Chinese handler, compromising both FBI HUMINT and technical operations.

Wise also details the penetration of the by Chinese translator, Larry Wu-Tai Chin, perhaps the longest penetration of the U. S. Intelligence Community (32 years.) Chin was exposed to a great deal more classified information than his nominal position with FBIS would suggest. The quantity and quality of the sensitive information of some of these agents passed over the years is sobering indeed. Wise also presents a useful primer on Chinese foreign intelligence collection tradecraft. However, he barely touches on the “difficult to get your arms around” Chinese cyberespionage program, perhaps the most relentless, aggressive, and by all accounts, fruitful area for Chinese foreign intelligence collection in a broad range of fields. These fields range from government agencies and departments, and their contractors, to private sector firms and institutions, from which they harvest economic, military, political, technical, and industrial processes and dual-use technologies. The book is a very useful, if incomplete, overview of the espionage threat from China.

The book was reviewed by Peter L. Mattis[1], who found it lacking in some important aspects. He points out that Wise was in a “position to offer a fresh view of Chinese intelligence operation updated by newly available materials.” He adds, “Although written in a compelling and engaging manner, Tiger Trap largely fails…to update the American experience with Chinese intelligence[2], instead relying on worn-out analysis of The Chinese.”

This is one of several books on the U.S. Intelligence Community recommended by Dan Mulvenna, in his “The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf: An annotated bibliography,” compiled by Dan Mulvenna (updated December, 2011) referring to British Intelligence – from WWII to the Present. The other books listed by Mulvenna in this section are below.

Hoffman, Todd (2008). The Spy Within: Larry Chin and China’s Penetration of the CIA

deGraffenreid, Kenneth (1999). The Cox Report: The Unanimous and Bipartisan Report of the House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China

Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

Wallace, Robert (2008) and H. Keith Melton. Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s SpyTechs from Communism to al-Qaeda

Melton, Keith (2009). Ultimate Spy: Inside the Secret World of Espionage: Expanded and Updated Edition

Beardon, Milt (2003) and James Risen. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB

Earley, Pete (1988). Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring

Hunter, Robert W. (1999). Spy Hunter: Inside the FBI Investigation of the Walker Espionage Case

Barron, John (1987). Breaking the Ring: The Rise and Fall of the Walker Family Spy Network.

Walker, John, Jr. (2008). My Life as a Spy

Wise, David (1995). Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million

Earley, Pete (1997). Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames

Weiner, Tim (1995), David Johnston, and Neil A. Lewis. Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy

Wise, David (2003). Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America

Cherkashin, Victory (2005) with Gregory Feifer. Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer. The True Story of the Man who recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames

Wise, David (1992). Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors that Shattered the CIA

Schecter, Jerold (1992) and Peter S. Deriabin. The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War

Lamphere, Robert J. (1986) and Tom Shachtman. The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent’s Story

Benson, Robert Louis (1996) and Michael Warner, eds. VENONA: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957

Haynes, John Earl (2009), Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev. Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

Weinstein, Allen (1999) and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – The Stalin Era

Andrew, Christopher (1999) and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword And The Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive And The Secret History of The KGB

Andrew, Christopher (1991) and Oleg Gordievsky. KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev

Oleg Gordievsky (1995). Next Stop Execution: The Autobiography of Oleg Gordievsky

Weisner, Benjamin (2004). A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country

Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiograhy of a Senior Intelligence Officer

Baron, John (1974). KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Agents

Herrington, Stuart A. (1999). Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World

Vise, David A. (2002). The Bureau, and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, The Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History

Hood, William (1982). Mole – The True Story of the First Russian Spy to Become an American Counterspy. New York: Norton

[1] Peter L. Mattis. “The Chinese Tiger Still Evades the Trap,” in International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence (Vol. 25, no. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 185-190).

[2] Two other, older sources, on Chinese intelligence are: Howard DeVore (1999). China’s Intelligence and Internal Security Forces. Coulsdon, UK: Jane’s Information Group; and Enftimiades, Nicholas (1994).. Chinese Intelligence Operations. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

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3 Responses to Tiger Trap

  1. Pingback: Nightmover | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Spies | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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