Chang Hsien-yi

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Chang Hsien-yi
Born 1943 (1943)
Haikou City, Hainan Province
Residence USA
Nationality Republic of China (Taiwan) & USA
Education National Tsing Hua University
Spouse(s) Hung Mei-feng
Children Three
Scientific career
Fields Nuclear Physics

Chang Hsien-yi (Chinese: 張憲義; born 1943) served as deputy director of Taiwan's Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER), and defected to the USA in 1988.

Early life

Chang, a native of Haikou City, was born in 1943.[1] He went to Taichung National Secondary High School, and attended National Tsing Hua University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree.

Recruitment by the CIA

In 1967, Chang graduated from the military's Chung Cheng Institute of Technology (now National Defense University). Then from the 1970s, he was recruited by a case officer of the CIA while studying in America.[2] While rising through the ranks in Taiwan, he passed on information to the USA. By 1987, as Deputy Director of INER, he was well-positioned to provide information about the country's secret small-scale plutonium extraction facility. At this time, the Reagan administration considered it possible that the secret program was proceeding without the knowledge of Taiwan's president Lee Teng-hui.[3]

Defection to the USA

On 9 January 1988, Chang did not return to Taiwan from a holiday, and instead defected with his family to the USA. Chang brought with him numerous top-secret documents[2] that could not have been obtained by other means.[3] Though an article from the BBC claims Chang did not take a single document. A study into the secret program concluded that at the time of Chang's defection, Taiwan was one or two years away from being able to complete a nuclear bomb.[4] According to The Economist, there were plans to fit nuclear warheads to Taiwan's Tien Ma, or 'Sky Horse' missile, which had an estimated range of up to 1,000 kilometres.[5] There were also plans to load miniaturised nuclear weapons into the auxiliary fuel tanks of the Indigenous Defense Fighter.[6] Armed with Chang's documents, President Reagan insisted that Taiwan shut down its program.[7]

Taiwan's Ministry of Defence denied that Chang had been a CIA informant. Its retired Chief of General Staff (1981-1989), General Hau Pei-tsun, claimed that for more than a decade previously, Taiwan already had the potential to develop nuclear weapons.[8] A former member of President Lee Teng-hui's national security team, Chang Jung-feng, has described Chang's actions as a 'betrayal'.[9] The CIA has refused to discuss Chang's defection.[10] James R. Lilley, who served as CIA station chief in Beijing, said the case should be 'publicly acknowledged as a success'.[4]

Chang is quoted in The Taipei Times as saying that he was "...motivated by fears that his research into nuclear weapons would be used by 'politically ambitious' people who would harm Taiwan."[9]

Nuclear energy in Taiwan

Taiwan uses nuclear power for some of its electricity generation, but since 1988, its official position has been that it will not develop nuclear weapons.[2] Were it to do so, China has said it would be 'a legitimate reason' to launch an attack on the island.[11]


  1. ^ "The man who put an end to Taiwan's dream of becoming a nuclear power". Taipei Times. 1999-10-14. Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  2. ^ a b c Muthiah Alagappa (2009). The Long Shadow: Nuclear Weapons and Security in 21st Century Asia. NUS Press. pp. 415–. ISBN 978-9971-69-478-4. 
  3. ^ a b Jeffrey Richelson (17 September 2007). Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 367–. ISBN 978-0-393-32982-7. 
  4. ^ a b By TIM WEINERDEC. 20, 1997 (1997-12-20). "How a Spy Left Taiwan in the Cold - The New York Times". Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  5. ^ Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc. (January 1998). Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc. pp. 60–. ISSN 0096-3402. 
  6. ^ "Defector reveals mini-nuke project against China - Taipei Times". 
  7. ^ "The Nuclear Vault: The United States and Taiwan's Nuclear Program, 1976-1980". 
  8. ^ Etel Solingen (9 February 2009). Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East. Princeton University Press. pp. 102–. ISBN 1-4008-2802-3. 
  9. ^ a b "Chang Hsien-yi's defection 'a betrayal'". Taipei Times. 2017-02-03. Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  10. ^ "U.s. Spy Defused Taiwan's Nuclear Dreams - tribunedigital-chicagotribune". 1997-12-21. Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  11. ^ I. C. Smith; Nigel West (4 May 2012). Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence. Scarecrow Press. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7370-4. 
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