Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China

06.16.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In his new book “Tiger Trap,” veteran intelligence author David Wise turns his attention to the history of Chinese espionage against the United States and the sometimes clumsy, self-defeating U.S. response.

While the subject matter often lends itself to exaggeration or anti-China animus, Mr. Wise generally evades these hazards and sticks close to the facts.  And though at least the outlines of individual episodes described in the book have previously been reported, the author fills in numerous gaps in the public record, including some previously classified details.  The book presents Chinese espionage successes and failures, some brilliant U.S. counterintelligence strokes and some egregious failures, some suspects who were falsely accused and others who got away nearly unscathed.

It all adds up to a lively and surprisingly cohesive narrative, especially since many of the individual stories overlap with one or more of the others.  “Chinese spy cases have tendrils that often seem to reach out and become entangled in other cases,” Mr. Wise writes.

When it comes to espionage, “China may be America’s single most effective and dangerous adversary,” according to Mr. Wise.  “It managed over the years to penetrate both the CIA and the FBI.  It acquired highly classified and guarded nuclear weapons secrets.”

“Without exaggerating the danger of Chinese espionage, or magnifying the threat, it is a fact that China’s spying on America is ongoing, current, and shows no sign of diminishing.  The conflict is no less real for being mostly unseen.”  It goes without saying that U.S. intelligence also collects against China.

“Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China” by David Wise was published this week by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Some other newly received books in our “to read” pile include these:

“Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11” by Athan G. Theoharis, Temple University Press, May 31, 2011.

“15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation” by L. Douglas Keeney, St. Martin’s Press, February 2011.

“Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man” by John Coster-Mullen, 2011.