(Suggested Reading Time: 2.5 min)
On August 28, the FBI arrested two researchers linked to Communist China’s Research Infiltration Program. One researcher was affiliated with the University of California. FBI suspected him transferring sensitive U.S. software data to China and destroying evidence (Chinese National Charged with Destroying Hard Drive). The other was from the University of Virginia. Allegedly, he engaged in theft of trade secrets and computer intrusion. (University of Virginia Researcher Charged)
This announcement came shortly after indictments of four Chinese nationals. The U.S. attorney charged three visiting scholars and one graduate student with hiding their affiliations with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). All lied about their military ties on their visa applications before entering the U.S. (Lying about their work). Among them, Tang Juan was the most well-known researcher arrested. She took shelter at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco to avoid apprehension (Atwood). Moreover. Texas A&M professor concealed his sponsorship in China from the disclosure for NASA (Texas Professor and NASA Researcher Arrested).
Communist Intelligence Service also recruits a large number of civilian researchers. Most operatives joined the network under the influence of nationalism. These disposable assets do not need extensive training in trade crafts. Overall, they function under a loose framework without much interaction with domestic handlers. Assignment tasking and fulfilment occur during their stays in China. This tactic aimed to induce burdens on counterintelligence surveillance. Communist Ministry of State Security adopted the doctrine to compensate for the lack of operational sophistication with numbers (Eftimiades). It became a cost-effective way for communist infiltration. FBI counterintelligence chief Harry Godfrey III:” For prosecutive purposes, you are looking at an individual collecting one small part one time, and you don’t have the quality of case that our country will take to prosecute as far as espionage”.
A senior intelligence official disclosed a 1,300% increase in cases on economic espionage and China in the past ten years. 60% of subjects relating to intellectual property thefts were linked to China (Atwood). These security breaches sent wake-up calls across academia (China Initiative and Compilation).
The U.S.’s countermeasures are drastically evolving. The FBI is currently opening new cases at a speed of one investigation every 10 hours (Atwood). CNN cited DOJ officials and pointed out Chinese Consulate in Houston was “a microcosm of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities”. These facilities have been guiding how to evade or obstruct FBI investigations (Atwood). As a result, the State Department ordered a forced eviction on Chinese Consulate in Houston (Read more on the expulsion from an insider). Furthermore, North Texas University expelled 15 scholars backed by the Communist Government. Stress on the workforce continued to grow amidst rising demands for surveillance and investigations.
These Communist spies are facing a dilemma. The U.S. is taking proactive steps to address this national security threat. As soon as the Feds exposed their covers, they would be abandoned by the CCP and face harsh penalties alone. Each possessed limited values to the grand schema of communist infiltration. For instance, Tang was a brigade-level PLA officer. The Communist Consulate valued their wellbeings over the prosecution she would face. Communist diplomats forced Tang out of the consulate.
On the other hand, those that managed to return to China remain risks to the overall operation. The likelihood of restrictions on their future foreign travel is high. The false pretense of “national service” for the Communist Party remains nonreciprocal. Nonetheless, their presence jeopardized academic advancements for regular Chinese students. Ultimately, the U.S. could evoke visas for all government-sponsored Chinese researchers.
After all, the fate of communist spies has been sealed: to be captured or disposed.
【Author】 Gordon Sims,【Editor】Dylan King
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Atwood, Kylie, et al. “Chinese Fugitive Taken into Custody as US Claims Houston Consulate Was a Part of Espionage Network.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 July 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/07/24/politics/us-china-consulate-accuse-espionage-network/index.html.
Department of Justice. “Chinese National Charged with Destroying Hard Drive During FBI Investigation into the Possible Transfer of Sensitive Software to China.” The United States Department of Justice, 28 Aug. 2020, www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/chinese-national-charged-destroying-hard-drive-during-fbi-investigation-possible.
Department of Justice. “INFORMATION ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE’S CHINA INITIATIVE AND A COMPILATION OF CHINA-RELATED PROSECUTIONS SINCE 2018.” The United States Department of Justice, 4 Sept. 2020, www.justice.gov/opa/information-about-department-justice-s-china-initiative-and-compilation-china-related.
Department of Justice. “Researchers Charged with Visa Fraud After Lying About Their Work for China’s People’s Liberation Army.” The United States Department of Justice, 23 July 2020, www.justice.gov/opa/pr/researchers-charged-visa-fraud-after-lying-about-their-work-china-s-people-s-liberation-army.
Department of Justice. “Texas Professor and NASA Researcher Arrested on Charges Related to China’s Talents Program.” The United States Department of Justice, 24 Aug. 2020, www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/texas-professor-and-nasa-researcher-arrested-charges-related-china-s-talents-program.
Department of Justice. “University of Virginia Researcher Charged with Theft of Trade Secrets and Computer Intrusion.” The United States Department of Justice, 28 Aug. 2020, www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/pr/university-virginia-researcher-charged-theft-trade-secrets-and-computer-intrusion.