The Trump administration has expelled two Chinese diplomats who reportedly breached a U.S. Special Operations base in Virginia.
U.S. officials believe at least one of the Chinese officials was an intelligence officer posing with a diplomatic cover, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The Chinese diplomats allegedly went to the base near Norfolk, Virginia with their wives. Several bases in the area have highly secret units, including one with the headquarters of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six.
The diplomats reportedly drove to a checkpoint for entry to the base, but were told by a guard who realized they did not have permission to enter to go through the gate, turn around and exit the base, which is common procedure in such situations.
The Chinese diplomats instead continued on to the base where they were blocked by fire trucks. The Chinese officials indicated that they did not understand the guard’s English instructions, and had simply gotten lost, according to people briefed on the matter.
American officials said they were skeptical that the intruders made an innocent error. Some U.S. officials said they believed the Chinese officials were testing the security at the installation, according to the report. Had the Chinese officials made it onto the base without being stopped, Beijing could have then sent a more senior intelligence officer to enter the base, analysts theorized.
Neither Washington nor Beijing officially reported the incident, which occurred in September.
China in recent months has increased its spying activities on American soil, officials told the Times, as Chinese officials with diplomatic passports are often showing up at research and government facilities.
On Oct. 16, weeks after the intrusion at the base, the State Department announced sharp restrictions on the activities of Chinese diplomats, requiring them to provide notice before meeting with local or state officials and with educational and research institutions.