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China won't confirm, deny reports of bugged plane

Bugs found from bathroom to bedroom, reports say

Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Chinese President Jiang Zemin  

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Chinese analysts and government officials said Saturday they could neither confirm nor deny reports in two Western newspapers that a Boeing jet, delivered to China for use as the presidential plane, was bugged.

The Washington Post and the Financial Times reported Friday that Chinese intelligence officers discovered more than 20 listening devices throughout a new Boeing 767 purchased by China in June 2000 to be President Jiang Zemin's official jet.

The Post, quoting a Chinese source, said 27 devices were found everywhere from the presidential bathroom to the headboard of Jiang's bed.

So far, there has been no U.S. confirmation of the reports. "We never discuss these types of allegations," a White House spokesman said Saturday.

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A CIA spokesman said, "On these types of allegations, as a matter of policy we just don't comment."

Jiang was furious at the discovery, the Financial Times reported.

Asked about the reports, Chinese government officials and analysts said they had not heard about a bugged plane. They expressed surprise -- but not too much.

One analyst said it is not uncommon for countries to spy on each other to preserve national interests.

Even if the report were true, it would constitute a "small incident" that would not distract China from pursuing good relations with the United States, a Chinese government official said.

From Boeing to China via Delta

Boeing manufactured the 767-300 in Seattle, Washington, selling it to Delta Air Lines as part of a long-standing order. Delta took possession of the plane on June 8, 2000, but the aircraft -- then furnished with only lavatories and overhead bins -- remained in a Boeing storage facility in Washington state, Delta spokesman Tom Donahue said.

A week later, the China Aviation Supplies Import and Export Corp. agreed to buy the plane from Delta, said Donahue. The aircraft was flown to Texas with representatives of the import/export firm on board on July 6, 2000. At that point the airliner's title was transferred to the Chinese company, he said.

Donahue said the plane is now operated by China United, a state-owned airline.

In Texas, "several aircraft maintenance firms" refitted the plane for use as Zeming's personal jet, and Chinese officials oversaw the entire process, the Post reported. After approximately one year of renovations, the plane was flown to China, Boeing spokesman Tom Ryan said in a statement.

Another Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdie, saying the company had no contact with the plane since CACS took it over, dismissed any alleged involvement in bugging the plane. "Boeing isn't even going to address the listening device rumor," she said.

"We are in the commercial airplane business," said another Boeing official, who asked not to be identified. "We are not in the espionage business."

The devices reportedly found on the plane were said to be highly sophisticated and satellite-operated.

Chinese aviation officials and military officers are accusing the United States of planting the bugs, the Post reported, quoting sources.

After the bugs were discovered, the reports said, 20 Chinese air force officers and two officials from the company that imported the jet were detained.

The Post said Western diplomats and executives first learned of the case in mid-October when Chinese officials with whom they did business failed to appear for meetings. Chinese friends and colleagues told them the officials had been arrested.

-- CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz and CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.




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