Alleged Hamilton spy plot was 'amateur,' espionage expert says
Bid to sell naval secrets sounds like the work of an amateur working alone, say experts
The espionage plot that has a Hamilton man accused of trying to sell Canadian naval secrets to China seems more the act of an amateur than a seasoned spy operation, a Canadian intelligence expert says.
Qing Quentin Huang, 53, is accused of trying to sell sensitive information on the Canadian government's shipbuilding procurement strategy. The national plan includes building patrol ships, frigates, naval auxiliary vessels, science research vessels and icebreakers.
If Huang was trying to sell secrets to China, he wasn't part of a far-reaching espionage plan, says Ray Boisvert, the former assistant director of intelligence for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Commenting on the allegations as outlined by police, Boisvert told CBC the plot seemed amateurish:
"It seems like so far from what we've heard that it wasn't very good trade craft. This was not a highly sophisticated intelligence operation."
He noted the alleged actions suggest someone who was working on his own and who " does not appear to be a man who was trained for the mission."
Authorities also allege Huang acted alone and is not believed to have been state-sponsored — but Boisvert says even though China may not have sought him as an agent, they might welcome the information nonetheless.
Building the navy
Huang was arrested in Burlington on Saturday and the RCMP charged him under the Security of Information Act. He lived in Waterdown, a suburban area of Hamilton.
At the time of his arrest, he was employed as an engineer at Lloyd's Register's Burlington office, where he has worked since 2006, according to a statement released by the U.K.-based company.
Everybody is spying on everybody.- Luke Chan, McMaster University's assistant vice president for international affairs
Lloyd's Register is one of several firms working on Canada's national shipbuilding procurement strategy. In particular, the company is assessing vessel designs for the federal government's Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) program.
"Mr. Huang did not have security clearance and was therefore not involved in any approvals of AOPS and did not have direct access to information on AOPS," said Lloyd's Register spokesman Mark Stokes in a written statement.
"Mr. Huang is being suspended forthwith without pay until the matter is fully investigated and resolved," he added.
Huang was trying to get his hands on some very important information, says Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former senior intelligence expert for CSIS.
"It's all about building our next navy, building our next icebreakers and coast guard," Juneau-Katsuya said. "Our national shipbuilding program has very classified and sensitive information about the capacity of our ships, the material that will be used."
Both Juneau-Katsuya and Boisvert agreed that the information in that area is is "hugely important."
Harming Canadian-Chinese relations
But will these spying allegations harm relations between Canada and China? Hopefully not, says Luke Chan, McMaster University's assistant vice president for international affairs and a professor of finance and business economics in the DeGroote School of Business.
"I really hope this particular episode doesn't dampen the relationship between the two countries," Chan said. "This is a one-sided event. A guy trying to get brownie points. It's very stupid."
Boisvert says in his experience, a person can try to sell sensitive information for a bunch of reasons. "It could be a sense of betrayal on himself, it could be he felt that he did not receive the justification or the respect he deserved," he said.
"It could be personal issues — everything from [debt] to other complexities, depression, any number of things."
RCMP Chief Supt. Jennifer Strachan said police first learned of the case on Thursday after Huang communicated with someone at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, but would not say if that was how they became aware of Huang's alleged activities.
She said several agencies — including the RCMP, CSIS and local police forces — came together and worked quickly to disrupt the "threat" to national security.
"In these types of cases, sharing of information may give a foreign entity a tactical, military or competitive advantage by knowing the specifications of vessels responsible for defending Canadian waters and Canadian sovereignty," Strachan said.
Spying is just a reality that governments and people are faced with day to day, Chan says. "It's all over the place. Governments spying on governments, governments spying on people."
"Everybody is spying on everybody."
With files from The Canadian Press