The FBI prevented an Interpol vice president from entering the United States to attend a meeting of the international police organization's executive committee, The Times learned Monday, on grounds that he is a leading Chinese intelligence operative.
The suspected spy, Zhu Entao, is believed to have served as China's "case officer" for Larry Wu-Tai Chin, the former CIA translator who committed suicide two years ago after being convicted of selling classified information to Beijing, U.S. government officials said.
The Chin case involved one of the most severe breaches in American intelligence security in recent years.
A spokesman for the embassy of the People's Republic of China denounced the U.S. refusal to issue a visa to Zhu as "a violation of international norms."
'We Express Our Regret'
Chiwei Zhang, the embassy's press officer, said the U.S. action was "totally erroneous for which we express our regret."
The Chinese Embassy spokesman did not respond when asked about Zhu's intelligence role.
U.S. officials tried to play down their refusal to give Zhu a visa by arranging for the executive committee's meeting to be shifted from Washington to Interpol's headquarters outside Paris, where it was held last week with Zhu attending, government sources said.
But the People's Republic retaliated immediately by notifying the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that it was canceling plans for two of its narcotics agents to attend a DEA international training session at Quantico, Va., in the fall, a Justice Department source said.
The U.S. action could strain sensitive relations between the United States and China at a time when the Administration has become increasingly concerned about spies inside the United States.
U.S. officials, who declined to be identified by name or agency, said they were struck by the boldness of the Chinese attempt to bring Zhu to Washington after he emerged in the Chin case as a veteran Chinese intelligence operative.
During Chin's long covert relationship with China, he allegedly turned over voluminous top-secret documents revealing the West's assessment of China's strategic, military, economic and scientific capabilities.
At a pretrial hearing in the Chin case, FBI agents testified that they began their interview with him on Nov. 22, 1985, by confronting the veteran of 33 years of CIA service with a photograph of Zhu, whom the agents described as a Chinese intelligence official. Chin at first denied knowing Zhu, then said Zhu had introduced himself as a Chinese banker during a trip Chin took to China in 1982.
Barring Zhu from entering the United States may affect a proposed trip next month to Washington by a Chinese Justice Ministry official, who was invited to the United States after a trip to Beijing by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and an American delegation last August, a Justice Department source said.
Official 'Too Tied Up'
Richard C. Stiener, chief of Interpol's U.S. national central bureau, was "too tied up and won't be able to talk" about the Zhu incident, spokeswoman Beverly R. Sweatman said.
She said Zhu was elected a delegate at Interpol's 1985 general assembly meeting in the United States, which means that he attended the session.
A U.S. intelligence source said the FBI raised objections to his 1988 attempt to re-enter the country because "they knew more" about Zhu after the Chin case than they did in 1985.
Zhu is listed by the Interpol central bureau here as deputy director of the international cooperation department of China's public security ministry. He has been described in news reports as co-head of Interpol's national central bureau in China since the country joined the organization in September, 1984.
A Justice Department source said that Zhu, as Interpol vice president for Asia, is in line to head the organization but that the denial of his visa "could make it more difficult for him" to assume that position.