By S.T. Patrick
In January, the Justice Department announced three cases of alleged spying on university campuses in the United States, possibly tied to a Chinese program called the “Thousand Talents Plan,” designed to lure American professors and researchers to work with the Chinese government. When dealing with educators and researchers, the spying can be as simple as the stealing of American technological information and handing it to the Chinese through questionable academic and professional means.
Currently, 12 researchers in the U.S. have been fired for sharing advanced research information with the Chinese—and being paid for it—without disclosing the fact to their employers. And, according to Michael Lauer, the deputy director of extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, “another 180 scientists and researchers are under investigation for failing to reveal their financial ties to China.”
Professor Charles Lieber was the department chair for Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard. His primary area of expertise was nanotechnology. He researched the application of miniscule pieces of technology that can be incorporated into computing, energy, medicine, and, of course, military applications. As someone who received research grants from both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Department, Lieber was required to disclose all financial ties he had with foreign universities and governments. In 2011, Lieber signed a secret agreement with a Chinese university to guide the research at their university. The agreement paid Lieber up to $50,000 per month plus expenses. However, he disclosed no ties to China when asked by NIH and Defense Department investigators. Of course, he also omitted the fact that he was making $600,000 a year under the table from the Communist Chinese.
Another case dealt with a Chinese national who was a researcher at Boston University. The woman had lied on her immigration visa to hide the fact that she was an officer in the Chinese military. After federal investigators searched her electronic devices, they found that she had worked on U.S. military projects and had been compiling dossiers on two American scientists who were experts in robotics, possibly recruiting them to work for the Chinese, as well.
A third case dealt with another Chinese national, a man who had been engaged in cancer cell research at a Boston medical research center. After telling agents at Logan Airport that he had nothing in his bags, they found 21 vials of biological material stashed in his socks.
While most academic espionage may not directly link to military missions, the American government has been keenly watching Chinese professors and students who are teaching and studying in America. The fears concern intellectual property theft more than the theft of government secrets. Instead, these are the secrets of the billionaire class that funds the government’s most secret programs.
University of Texas professor Bo Mao was arrested on charges of stealing proprietary technology from a new tech start-up and giving it to a subsidiary of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications conglomerate. Mao had used his status as an educator and researcher to obtain the circuit board for what he termed “academic testing.”
National intelligence officials say the American university system is becoming a “soft target” for Chinese nationals and that many American professors will engage in espionage and theft for the right price.
Bill Evanina, the top counterintelligence official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said, “A lot of our ideas, technology, research, innovation is incubated on those university campuses. That’s where the science and technology originates—and that’s why it’s the most prime place to steal.”
In 2019 and 2020 alone, there have been multiple cases with similar stories. A Chinese professor at the University of Kansas was arrested for failing to reveal ties to a Chinese university, a Chinese student at UCLA was arrested for shipping missile secrets back to China, and a Chinese student at Chicago’s Institute of Technology was arrested for recruiting candidates for China’s version of the Central Intelligence Agency.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available from the AFP Online Store.