People’s Republic of China Military Exercises in the South China Sea

The Department of Defense (DOD) is concerned about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) decision to conduct military exercises around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on July 1-5.


The Department of Defense (DOD) is concerned about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) decision to conduct military exercises around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on July 1-5. 

The designated areas where the exercises are due to take place encompass contested waters and territory.

Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability.

The PRC’s actions will further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea. 

Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.

The military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea. 

The PRC’s actions stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarize the South China Sea and the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.

The Department of Defense will continue to monitor the situation with the expectation that the PRC will reduce its militarization and coercion of its neighbors in the South China Sea.

We urge all parties to exercise restraint and not undertake military activities that might aggravate disputes in the South China Sea.

Blogs to Follow:

Defense.gov (July 2020) People’s Republic of China Military Exercises in the South China Sea

Missile Defense Chief Looks to Handle Changing Threat

Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the agency’s director, told the Hypersonic Weapons Systems webinar in London the agency is looking to adapt current technologies against the hypersonic threat while looking toward new capabilities.


Missile defense has gone from pie-in-the-sky Star Wars technology in the 1980s to a proven military capability in the 21st century, and the Missile Defense Agency is looking to extend those capabilities against new threats.

Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the agency’s director, told the Hypersonic Weapons Systems webinar in London the agency is looking to adapt current technologies against the hypersonic threat while looking toward new capabilities.

“The sad reality is that many of these threats, regardless of how they’re launched and what their profiles are, really do look like hypersonic threats,” he said.

Ballistic missiles as they approach impact are hypersonic, as are many maneuverable cruise missiles. “So if you’re the sailor on the deck of a ship, they all look the same to you,” Hill said. “If you’re a soldier manning a land-based battery, it’s going to be maneuvering and coming in very quickly at hypersonic speeds. If you’re one of the airmen that’s manning one of the many sensors that are out there, it’s going to look fast, and it’s going to be moving quickly.”

So, the hypersonic threat already exists. The Missile Defense Agency now must adapt as the threat morphs, Hill said. Right now, the hypersonic threat is almost ancillary to the capabilities of ballistic and cruise missiles, he added, but as competitors test and build, that threat will become more sophisticated. 

“We’re defending the United States, our deployed forces, our allies and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight,” Hill said. It is a simple mission statement, but not so simple to execute.

The key to the program is the sensor array. “We leverage all sensors, and many, many countries are in the business of fusing data so that you have a complete track picture,” the admiral said. “We call it from … birth-to-death tracking and that is absolutely required. You don’t want to lose track of the threats, particularly if [they are] unpredictable and maneuverable.”

The agency will leverage space sensors, which is typically how it sees initial launches. “We will fly through ground-based sensors,” he said. “We have ships with the sensing capability deployed globally. Another great way that we partner with our allies that sensor architecture is critically important, particularly as the threats become more and more maneuverable over time.”

The existing sensing architecture and battle management system and even existing weapons can counter this very formidable threat, but more needs to be done, he said.

So, the bottom line is that just because a weapon is hypersonic doesn’t mean it can’t be intercepted. “Like all good engineering organizations, we’re going to look for where the vulnerabilities are in a hypersonic flight, whether it’s a glide vehicle or cruise missile,” Hill said.

The glide phase looks to be the most promising place, because it is earlier in a missile’s trajectory, Hill said. “We are now investigating what it would take to move into that first part of the glide phase,” he added. 

This means evolving the terminal system, “and then looking at how we can change the propulsion as required — change the front end to get to the glider phase,” Hill said. “It is a tough regime to operate in. But you have to remember that the hypersonic threat is not invincible — in that phase, it’s bleeding off energy, it may be doing a roll, and may be starting its maneuver. But it’s a great place to engage.”

In addition, the admiral said, the agency is looking to build sensing from space.

This is not the 21st century version of pie-in-the-sky. The Missile Defense Agency is working closely with the services and combatant commands and having discussions with international partners on defending against this threat, Hill said.

Blogs to Follow:

Defense.gov (June 2020) Missile Defense Chief Looks to Handle Changing Threat

Chinese Citizen Convicted of Economic Espionage, Theft of Trade Secrets, and Conspiracy

Hao Zhang, 41, of China, was found guilty of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and conspiring to commit both offenses on Friday, announced the Department of Justice. The ruling was handed down by the Honorable Edward J. Davila, U.S. District Judge, following a four-day bench trial.


Defendant Stole from U.S. Companies to Benefit Instrumentality of the Chinese Government

Hao Zhang, 41, of China, was found guilty of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and conspiring to commit both offenses on Friday, announced the Department of Justice.  The ruling was handed down by the Honorable Edward J. Davila, U.S. District Judge, following a four-day bench trial.

Evidence submitted during the course of the trial demonstrated that from 2010 to 2015, Zhang conspired to and did steal trade secrets from two companies: Avago, a designer, developer, and global supplier of a broad range of analog, digital, mixed signal and optoelectronics components and subsystems with a focus in semiconductor design and processing, headquartered in San Jose, California, and Singapore; and Skyworks, an innovator of high performance analog semiconductors headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts.  Judge Davila found that Zhang intended to steal the trade secrets for the benefit of the People’s Republic of China

“The defendant plotted with Tianjin University to take trade secrets from two U.S. companies, including his own employer, to China for the benefit of the Chinese Government,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Today’s guilty verdict on all counts is an important step in holding accountable an individual who robbed his U.S. employer of trade secrets and sought to replicate the company’s technology and replace its market share.  The Department of Justice’s commitment to prosecuting these cases should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone considering doing the same.”        

“A free nation is naturally innovative.  No nation is more innovative than the United States.  Countries without freedom cannot match our innovation, and inevitably must resort to theft.  Theft is not innovation.  By combatting theft, we protect innovation and freedom,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California.

“Economic Espionage is a pervasive threat throughout the United States, particularly to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley which is the center of innovation and technology,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.  “While this case exemplifies how easily a few motivated employees can conspire to misappropriate intellectual property for the benefit of the People’s Republic of China, Zhang’s conviction should serve as a warning to our adversaries that the FBI and our partners remain committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes.”

According evidence presented during the bench trial, Zhang stole trade secrets relating the performance of wireless devices.  Specifically, Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) and Bulk Acoustic Wave (BAW) filters are used in wireless devices to eliminate interference and improve other aspects of device performance.  Film Bulk Acoustic Resonators (FBAR) are one type of BAW filter. 

The most common and most profitable application of FBAR technology is as a radio frequency (RF) filter for mobile phones and other wireless devices.  Technological advances in FBARs have played a substantial role in creating smaller, more efficient wireless devices for both consumer and military applications.  Avago, one of the victims of Zhang’s theft, was the leading company in the United States manufacturing and selling FBARs.  Zhang’s other victim, Skyworks, was developing its own BAW technology.

Evidence at trial further showed that in October 2006, Zhang and his co-conspirators started a business in China to compete with Avago and Skyworks.  One of Zhang’s co-conspirators, Wei Pang, started working at Avago at the same time.  Zhang and Pang illicitly shared trade secrets with each other and with co-conspirators in China while they worked for the U.S. companies.  

Zhang and Pang then connected their venture to Tianjin University (TJU) in China, an instrumentality of the Chinese government.  By 2009, they left their work in the United States to relocate to China, following a plan laid out by TJU officials to form another company, Novana, in the Cayman Islands.  Along the way, Zhang obtained patents in his own name using trade secret information he knew was stolen from Avago.  Zhang also worked with stolen trade secrets in a lab he founded at TJU while developing his new FBAR business. The FBAR processes that Zhang and his co-conspirators stole took Avago over twenty years of research and development to build.  Additional evidence during the bench trial demonstrated that Zhang engaged in economic espionage to help TJU and Zhang’s Chinese company unfairly compete in the multi-billion dollar global market for cell phone RF filters. 

Zhang was charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 1, 2015.

Zhang is currently released on a $500,000 secured bond. 

Zhang’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31, 2020, before Judge Davila in San San Jose.  The maximum statutory penalty for each count in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1831 is 15 years in custody and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution if appropriate.  The maximum statutory penalty for each count in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1832 is 10 years in custody and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution if appropriate.  However, any sentence will be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Michelle J. Kane and Susan Knight are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Rebecca Shelton, Susan Kreider, and Laurie Worthen.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (June 2020) Chinese Citizen Convicted of Economic Espionage, Theft of Trade Secrets, and Conspiracy

Former DIA Analyst Sentenced for Leaking Classified Information to Journalists

A former employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for leaking classified information to two journalists in 2018 and 2019.


A former employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for leaking classified information to two journalists in 2018 and 2019.

“When our nation’s secrets are published, in print or online, those secrets are made available to all of our adversaries,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Frese’s choice to betray his oath to his country had real consequences and caused actual harm to the safety of this country and its citizens.”

According to court documents, Henry Kyle Frese, 31, of Alexandria, was employed by DIA as a counter-terrorism analyst from February 2018 to October 2019, and held a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.

United States government agencies have confirmed that in the spring and summer of 2018, News Outlet 1 published eight articles, all authored by the same journalist (Journalist 1) that contained classified NDI that related to the capabilities of certain foreign countries’ weapons systems.

These articles contained classified intelligence from five intelligence reports (the Compromised Intelligence Reports) made available to appropriately cleared recipients in the first half of 2018.

The topic of all of these initial five Compromised Intelligence Reports – foreign countries’ weapons systems – was outside the scope of Frese’s job duties as an analyst covering CT topics.

The media articles, and the intelligence reporting from which they were derived, both contained information that is classified up to the TS//SCI level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security.

The intelligence reporting was marked as such.

“Frese repeatedly passed classified information to a reporter, sometimes in response to her requests, all for personal gain,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “When this information was published, it was shared with all of our nation’s adversaries, creating a risk of exceptionally grave harm to the security of this country. His conviction and sentence demonstrate the Department’s commitment to the investigation and prosecution of such betrayals by clearance holders as part of our mandate to protect our citizens and defend the national security of the United States.”

According to court documents, Frese and Journalist 1 lived together at the same residential address from January 2018 to November 2018. Throughout 2018 and 2019, Frese and Journalist 1 “followed” each other on Twitter, and on at least two occasions Frese re-Tweeted Journalist 1’s tweets announcing the publications of articles containing NDI classified at the Top Secret level.

“The American people expect those entrusted with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to keep those secrets safe. Mr. Frese did just the opposite,” said Alan E. Kohler, Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The FBI is committed to protecting the national security interests of the United States and will vigorously pursue investigations into current and former clearance holders who leak classified information.”

In or about April of 2018, Journalist 1 introduced Frese to a second journalist (Journalist 2).  Subsequently, Frese began texting and speaking with Journalist 2 by telephone.

Between mid-2018 and late September 2019, Frese orally transmitted NDI classified at the Top Secret level to Journalist 1 on 12 separate occasions, and orally transmitted NDI classified at the Secret level to Journalist 1 on at least four occasions.

Frese knew the information was classified at the Secret and Top Secret levels because the intelligence products from which he had learned the classified information had visible classification markings as to the classification level of the information, and the intelligence products accessed by Frese were stored on secure, classified government information systems.

“When Mr. Frese chose to provide classified information to members of the media, he violated his oath to serve the United States as a trusted government employee,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Put in the hands of our adversaries, this information causes damage and harm to our country. This investigation and today’s sentencing serve as a reminder that unauthorized disclosures of classified information is a crime, and will not be tolerated.”

In relation to one of the 12 times Frese orally transmitted Top Secret NDI to Journalist 1, in or about mid-April to early May 2018, Frese accessed an intelligence report unrelated to his job duties on multiple occasions, which contained NDI classified at the Top Secret//SCI level (Intelligence Report l).

A week after Frese accessed Intelligence Report 1 for the second time, Frese received an April 27, 2018 Twitter Direct Message (DM) from Journalist 1 asking whether Frese would be willing to speak with Journalist 2.

Frese stated that he was “down” to help Journalist 2 if it helped Journalist 1 “progress.” During the same April 27, 2018, Twitter exchange, Journalist 1 indicated that a certain United States military official told Journalist 2 that the official was not aware of the subject matter discussed in Intelligence Report 1.

Frese characterized the official’s denial as “weird” and commented on the source of information contained within Intelligence Report 1.

Several days after the April 27, 2018, Twitter exchange, Frese searched on a classified United States government computer system for terms related to the topics contained in Intelligence Report 1.

A few hours after searching for terms related to the topic of Intelligence Report l, Frese spoke by telephone with Journalist 1, and several hours later he spoke by telephone with Journalist 2. 

Immediately after the call with Journalist 2, Journalist 1 called Frese. During at least one of the calls with Journalist 1 and Journalist 2, Frese orally passed Top Secret NDI derived from Intelligence Report 1.

Approximately 30 minutes after Frese spoke with the two journalists, Journalist 1 published an article (Article 1) which contained Top Secret NDI, orally communicated by Frese and derived from Intelligence Report 1 classified at the Top Secret//SCI level.

On at least 30 separate occasions in 2018, Frese conducted searches on classified government systems for information regarding the classified topics he discussed with Journalists 1 and 2.

On multiple occasions in 2018 and 2019, Frese conducted searches on classified government systems because of specific requests for information from Journalists 1 and 2.

Additionally, between early 2018 and October 2019, Frese communicated with an employee of an overseas CT consulting group (Consultant 1) via social media.

On at least two occasions, Frese transmitted classified NDI related to CT topics to Consultant 1, using a social media site’s direct messaging feature.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Neil Hammerstrom and Danya E. Atiyeh, and Trial Attorney Jennifer Kennedy Gellie of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. 

Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-304.

Related: Former DIA Employee Pleads Guilty to Leaking Classified National Defense Information to Journalists

Justice.gov (June 2020) Former DIA Analyst Sentenced for Leaking Classified Information to Journalists

Iran Poses Greatest Threat to Region, Centcom Commander Says

Iran poses the greatest threat to regional security and stability, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.


Iran poses the greatest threat to regional security and stability, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. spoke last week at a Middle East Institute webinar titled, “Centcom and the Shifting Sands of the Middle East.”

McKenzie enumerated various threats from Iran:

  • Funding and arming terrorist organizations;
  • Propping up the “murderous regime” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad;
  • Providing advanced weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen;
  • Direct attack on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz;
  • Direct attack on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia; and 
  • Attacking U.S. troops in Iraq. 

“Iran actively stokes instability and is intent on degrading security all over the region,” McKenzie said. “They use proxies and violence to push other nations in the region to their agenda.”

The State Department is leading the effort to pressure Iranian leaders diplomatically and, through sanctions, to make them renounce their nuclear ambitions, cease work on ballistic missiles and cease exporting terrorism against their neighbors, he said, noting that this effort is a whole-of-government approach that includes allies and partners.

The Defense Department’s role regarding Iran is to deter it from taking direct or indirect military actions against the United States and its allies and partners in the region, he said.

McKenzie noted that the Iranians were surprised by the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in January, and have had to recalculate where their red line is drawn with the United States. “They see we have the will to act,” he said.

Beyond Iran, terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaida still aspire to attack the United States, its allies and even the U.S. homeland, the general said. Vigorous pressure on them prevents them from doing so, he added.

China and Russia also have become involved in the region, trying to use economic leverage to make their influence felt, the general said. Russia, he added, is propping up Assad, who they see as a valued ally with a warm-water port.

The U.S. response has been to have close relationships with nations in the region, McKenzie said, helping them build up their security forces and encouraging them to purchase U.S. foreign military materiel.

An over-the-horizon threat to coalition and partner forces in the region will most likely come from swarms of small unmanned aerial systems that can carry weapons, McKenzie said, noting that the Army is taking the lead on developing counter-UAS measures.

McKenzie noted that the United States is less dependent on Middle East oil than it ever was, but wants to ensure freedom of navigation for partners and allies. He specifically mentioned the importance of ensuring safe passage through the Red Sea, Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

NATO.int (June 2020) Iran Poses Greatest Threat to Region, Centcom Commander Says