HONG KONG — A Chinese state security official has been arrested on suspicion of spying for the United States, sources said, a case both countries have kept quiet for several months as they strive to prevent a fresh crisis in relations.
The official, an aide to a vice minister in China’s Ministry of State Security, was detained early this year on allegations that he had passed information to the United States for several years on China’s overseas espionage activities, said three sources, who have direct knowledge of the matter.
The aide had been recruited by the CIA and had provided “political, economic and strategic intelligence,” one source said, though it was unclear what level of information he had access to, or whether Chinese spies were compromised.
The case could represent China’s worst known breach of state intelligence in two decades. It follows two other major public embarrassments for Chinese security, both involving U.S. diplomatic missions.
The aide, detained sometime between January and March, had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and spoke English, the source added.
“The destruction has been massive,” another source said. The sources all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of punishment.
China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
The sources did not reveal the name of the suspected spy or the vice minister he worked for. The vice minister has been suspended, one of the sources said.
The Ministry of State Security is in charge of the nation’s domestic and overseas intelligence operations.
The vice minister’s aide was arrested at around the same time that China’s worst political scandal in a generation was unfolding, though the sources said the two cases were unrelated.
That scandal erupted in February when the police chief of Chongqing municipality took shelter for 24 hours in a U.S. consulate. Chongqing’s Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai, was suspended after it emerged the police chief had been investigating Bo’s wife on suspicion of murder. In April, blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped from house detention and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.