The National Immigration Agency (NIA) said on Friday that Dolkun Isa, secretary-general of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, would be stopped if he attempted to enter Taiwan, in effect contradicting comments on the same day by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) that as long as Isa entered Taiwan under his own name, he would not be denied entry. The contradiction stems from the fact that the NIA and CIB fall under different branches of government. Situations like these happen far more often than we’d think, especially in countries like the US that have multiple agencies serving different, and sometimes competing, purposes (e.g., the CIA and the FBI, or CSIS and the RCMP).
The CIB falls under the National Police Agency (NPA), which itself is under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). As its name says, its mandate is to investigate criminal activity. Although the NIA also falls under the MOI, the guidance and coordination of intelligence affairs at NIA and three other civil agencies is the remit of the National Security Bureau (NSB) — the nation’s principal intelligence agency — which itself is subordinate to the National Security Council (NSC).
What this means is that from a crime-fighting perspective, Isa is not a threat, as he is not believed to have engaged in criminal activity. Hence the CIB’s having no objection to his entering Taiwan. For the NSB, however, Isa could be deemed a person of interest (or “target”) as his activities may include political violence or “terrorism.” That is why, to use a different example, a domestic agency like Canada’s RCMP (Canada’s CIB, if you will) will investigate criminal organizations like the Hells Angels, but not, say, “terrorist” groups like Hezbollah (only when political violence and criminal activity intersect, such as selling contraband cigarettes to finance a “terrorist” organization, as Hezbollah did, will the RCMP and CSIS work together on a target).
Yang Wen-kai (楊文凱), the head of the International Affairs Division at the NIA, said the decision to bar Isa entry was based on the assessment (denied by Isa) that he doubles as the vice chairman of the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO), which China (thought not the UN or the US) has listed as a terrorist organization.* Challenged on the matter as to why Taiwan now also seemed to regard ETLO as a terrorist organization, Yang said “we obtained our information from a friendly country.”**
Some critics have rightly observed that the friendly country could be no other than China and that Yang’s comment was obfuscation, on par with the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration and Beijing’s attempts to keep everything “unofficial.” The problem with this criticism, however, is that intelligence agencies all over the world make it a policy not to publicize where they obtained, or the means by which they collected, intelligence. Sources are always kept secret, even in warrants and affidavits: human sources get numbers; foreign agencies, rather than be named, are “friendly” or “allied”; while communication intercepts (wiretaps, video surveillance, etc) are “reliable sources.” It is therefore perfectly normal for the NIA — and by extension the NSB — not to name their source, even if who it is is perfectly obvious, and a nefarious one at that.
Far more troubling than the NIA’s apparent lack of candor is the fact that Isa would be barred entry based on less than airtight intelligence from China, something that would not have happened under previous administrations. Behind this are Ma’s efforts to please Beijing and, perhaps more importantly, the nature of the man who heads the NSC, Chairman Su Chi (蘇起), whose pro-Beijing leanings and China ties are known facts. It should also be noted that the NSC is under the direct administration of the president. With Ma and Su at the top of the nation’s decisionmaking on intelligence matters, it is therefore no surprise that China’s “terrorists” would become Taiwan’s. Which raises the specter of future cooperation on intelligence. First it was Isa, the head of a so-called “terrorist” organization. Next it could be the other two “evils” as seen by the Chinese Communist Party — “extremism” and “splittism,” two concepts with dangerously loose interpretations that could very well include independence activists in Taiwan, pro-Tibetans, pro-Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and human rights activists seeking change in China.
Intelligence drift based on ideology, and political “gifts” of assistance in intelligence matters are dangerous, dangerous things that can undermine the very moral core of individuals.
* Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, two members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, both designated ETLO as a terrorist organization. Despite heavy lobbying by China, in December 2003 Washington refused to recognize ETLO as a terrorist entity, although it did designate its loose affiliate and allegedly al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) a terrorist entity the previous year. Many pundits have argued that Washington’s decision to comply with Beijing’s request on ETIM was motivated by the Bush administration’s need to secure Beijing acquiescence at the UN as it prepared to invade Iraq.
** James Millward of the East-West Center in Washington wrote in a report titled Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment that since 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has catalogued four Uighur organizations — ETIM, ETLO, the World Uighur Youth Congress (WUYC) and the East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC) — as terrorist organizations. Millward argues that a report published on Jan. 21, 2002, by the Information Office of the PRC State Council titled East Turkistan Terrorist Forces Cannot Get Away with Impunity was “less than systematic in its treatment of terrorist or separatist organizations” and “relies frequently on such vague generic terms as ‘the “East Turkistan” terrorist organization,’ which it intersperses confusedly with references to specific groups, many of which also have ‘East Turkistan’ in their names,” which results in “ambiguity over whether a given act was committed by a specific group known to espouse a separatist line (such as […] ETLO) or by unknown perpetrators whom the authors of the document claim, without providing evidence, to be East Turkistan separatists.”
My colleague Celia Llopis-jepsen has an interesting op-ed on the same subject in Wednesday’s edition of the Taipei Times.