Intelligence, Justice and Media: beware of the short-circuit

To confuse and structurally superimpose judiciary and intelligence exposes the Country to diplomatic and informative counter-attacks and reduces the weight of the rule of law by Andrea Monti – originally published in Italian by

An article published by The Diplomat reports the confession of two Chinese scientists who pleaded guilty of having “conspired to steal trade secrets from a medical research center” on behalf of, or for the benefit of, the Chinese government. The article goes on by saying that this was the occasion for the FBI to publicly denounce Chinese espionage actions, which is said to be behind about 60% of similar cases against the US. Moreover, it reports that according to radical organisations belonging to various religious denominations the situation is so critical, as to request the inclusion of the CCP in the list of transnational criminal organisations.

The tendency to make espionage cases spectacular by handing them over to the public through judicial reports is certainly not a novelty. Everyone (or at least, those who lived through that period) remembers the news that circulated on both sides of the Iron Curtain when a defector decided to cross it, some spy was discovered or some “scientific research project” was suddenly cancelled. But this was also possible because of the very limited circulation of information and the fact that the tension between the two blocks was managed by both with the awareness that the “Great Game” had its rules.

Today, forgetful of their own recent past, more and more the United States resorts to the judiciary to deal with cases which, to all intents and purposes, belong instead to intelligence – and therefore, to national security – and which should be managed in a different way to avoid embarrassment and counter-instrumentalisation deriving precisely from the publicity connected to judicial actions.

Even leaving aside the ironic circumstance that the United States owes much of its industrial development to the theft of technology to the detriment of the United Kingdom and other European countries, it is a fact that the acquisition of scientific information, or preventing a country – see the case of Iran and atomic technology – from having the availability of it, is a central element of the strategy of any government.

Not everyone can implement specific strategies, but the objective is well present in the plans of any security governmental body, if only in defensive terms. Even Italy, with the clumsy creation of the “cybernetic security perimeter” and the rampant, and little useful, “golden power” has become aware of it.

Therefore, coming back to the point, if the cases of industrial espionage discovered by the FBI were, in fact, traceable to the Chinese government, one wonders why, instead of managing them according to the golden rule of intelligence, “today for you, tomorrow for me”, the American Administration has decided to make this news public, further polarising, in negative, the US-China relations.

To take political advantage of accusing someone of having done something means to be in a position to demonstrate that you are a victim who has suffered the aggressor’s violence.

Hardly, however, can the US, like other global or local superpowers, embody this role. Recent history provides many examples of aggressive actions of the American intelligence in foreign countries, from the destabilisation activities in South America to the Iran-Contras scandal, to the extraordinary rendition of Mullah Omar organised by the CIA in Milan and concluded with the pardon granted by the President of the Republic to the agents indicted by the Court of Milan.

The political rule of being “sinless”, moreover, does not apply in the courtrooms, where every offence must be prosecuted, regardless of who committed it. We can legitimately ask for the conviction of someone who has done us harm, but we are not justified for the harm we ourselves have caused. Therefore, if the US can legitimately complain about hostile operations attributable to China, it should be prepared to suffer, in the face of international justice, the consequences of its aggressive actions against its adversaries.

An exemplary case is that of Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA agent indicted in the US for revealing to the Chinese government the names of Chinese citizens who, in China, provided information to the US.

On the one hand, the sentence rightly indicted an American citizen for having helped a foreign power. On the other, it “certified” that the USA had built, in the foreign country in question, a clandestine network to collect information and who knows what else.

Now, no one can be so naive as to think that a country (any country) would refrain from using any means to protect its interests, with the only limits of its international “weight” and resources at its disposal.

In this sense, therefore, the USA, China, Russia and, at less global levels, Turkey, England, France and so on, are certainly playing their games even far from the public control and, probably, according to unorthodox rules.

Without in the least wanting to invoke impunity and immunity for the players of these games, it is, however, evident that to confuse and structurally superimpose  the judicial plan on that of the intelligence is not very efficient. Besides, exposing a particular Country to diplomatic and information counter-attacks, this way of doing things reduces – at least, in those Countries which declare to respect it – the weight of the rule of law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *