In what appears to be a clampdown by Washington and its allies on China’s ‘theft’ of Western expertise, an ex-US military pilot and flight instructor who worked in China was detained by Australian authorities.
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department of Australia informed Reuters that a person was detained on October 21 in response to a request from the US government.
Daniel Edmund Duggan, 54, was detained by the Australian Federal Police on Friday in Orange, a small town in New South Wales. Court records, two law enforcement sources, and his attorney confirmed that he appeared before a judge on the same day, Reuters reported.
Duggan, a former American citizen, would probably be subject to official extradition proceedings, according to police sources who spoke to the news agency. He was denied bail and asked to appear in Sydney court again to discuss any bail request.
The US government has 60 days to request extradition under the terms of Australia’s extradition agreement with the US. The agreement permits the extradition of Australian citizens.
The content of the US arrest warrant and the allegations he faces are being kept under wraps. Duggan is a former military pilot and air combat instructor who served with the Marines before moving to Australia.
Duggan did serve with the Marines for more than ten years, from 1989 to 2002, rising to the rank of Major, according to a LinkedIn profile that fits his description. Duggan is believed to have flown the AV-8B Harrier II “jump jet” and participated as a Marine Corps exchange pilot with the Spanish Navy.
Duggan reportedly shifted to Beijing in 2014. Three years later, he was appointed managing director of AVIBIZ Limited, a “comprehensive aviation consultancy company” with its headquarters in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao.
According to Hong Kong business records viewed by Reuters, Australian passport holder Daniel Edmund Duggan registered AVIBIZ Limited in 2017, and it was disbanded in 2020. The nature of Duggan’s activity in China remained unclear, but the FBI was said to have pursued his arrest.
Duggan established an aviation business in Tasmania called Top Gun Australia after leaving the US military. He then sold the company before relocating to Beijing in 2014.
According to Australia’s business registration, Top Gun Australia was founded in 2012 and deregistered in 2017. However, the company’s website, which was still live at the time of publishing, provided more information about Duggan’s career.
He is described as a highly-skilled fighter pilot who skillfully piloted Harrier Jump Jets off aircraft carriers across the world. “He was a senior weapons and tactical instructor and was hand-picked to be the US Marine Corps’ Exchange Pilot to the Spanish Navy, where he taught tactics and strategy for nearly three years,” the website noted.
His company hired ex-pilots from the Australian, British, and German air forces to provide tours and flight instruction. Their work was also highlighted on a Tasmanian lifestyle website.
Duggan was detained the same week that Britain issued an intelligence alert over a number of former pilots who had been hired to instruct Chinese air force cadets.
Officials stated that they had not broken any national security rules, but they also vowed to impose stricter regulations on those who had served in the military in the past to stop Beijing from paying for Western tactical expertise.
In a statement last week, Australia’s defense minister, Richard Marles, revealed that Canberra was also looking into reports that former pilots had been selected for high-paying training positions in China.
British Pilots Involved Too?
It recently came to light that British defense intelligence had issued a rare “threat alert,” cautioning that China’s military had enlisted active-duty and retired RAF jet pilots to assist in training its air force.
Britain further issued warnings to dozens of former military pilots, advising them to halt working in China or risk being charged with violating new regulations related to national security.
Now it has come to light that the British government earlier ordered a small number of these Western pilots to “wear two hats.”
According to a recent report from the UK media site Express, the British government reportedly instructed a select handful of British pilots to “wear two hats” in an attempt to “play China at its own game.”
The report disclosed that retired RAF pilots who traveled to China to train the air force were also entrusted with stealing its military secrets.
It is said that 30 pilots are currently being paid about £240,000 per year to train pilots for the People’s Liberation Army in China. The pilots had little formal intelligence training, and many had retired from the military for years.
Nevertheless, those who decided to assist the government and had access to Chinese pilots returned with useful information. The operation is apparently now completed.
However, not all pilots were able to gain sensitive knowledge. The former pilots who found themselves training Chinese pilots on some of the most technologically sophisticated fighter jets in the PLAAF fleet were able to pick up some sensitive information.