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World China on campus: How the DOJ has battled 'nontraditional espionage'

14:46  05 may  2021
14:46  05 may  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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U.S. national security officials are increasingly sounding the alarm about the economic challenge and national security threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party, especially as the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Program exploits the openness of academia in the United States to steal advanced research to increase China’s wealth and enhance its power. In part two of this series, China on Campus, the Washington Examiner investigates the Justice Department’s ramped-up efforts to stem the tide of Chinese economic espionage at American colleges.

Xi Jinping wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Washington Examiner

The Justice Department’s China Initiative is shining the spotlight on the Chinese Communist Party’s coordinated and multifaceted efforts to steal research and technology from academic institutions across the country, with prosecutors mounting aggressive efforts over the past few years to crack down on Chinese malign influence at U.S. universities.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and was pressed on what the DOJ was doing to counter China, especially with regard to the Chinese government’s massive theft of intellectual property at public and private institutions.

“Well, within the last month or so, the intelligence community has identified China as a threat ... with respect to espionage, with respect to theft of intellectual property, so the FBI is working very hard on these issues,” Garland replied. “There’s also obviously a very important cybercrime and cyberhacking element of this, so a lot of money and new resources are being put into protecting against that hacking, then prosecuting where we’re unsuccessful at protection and then plugging the holes.”

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Not directly mentioned by the Biden attorney general was the effort the China Initiative, launched by the Trump DOJ in 2018, has put into pushing back against Chinese economic espionage on U.S. campuses, focused on rooting out academics concealing their ties to the People’s Liberation Army or China’s Thousand Talents Program, which U.S. intelligence officials say is part of China's pervasive effort to steal U.S. technology to strengthen its economy and military might.

CONFUCIUS INSTITUTES COLLAPSE NATIONWIDE

Perhaps the most notable such arrest was that of Dr. Charles Lieber, the former chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, who had received $15 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon over the years, who was charged in January 2020 with alleged crimes including false statements and then in a superseding indictment, with falsely reported income tax returns related to his role as a “strategic scientist” at the Wuhan University of Technology and his lucrative participation in Thousand Talents.

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Similar arrests have taken place since 2020 at colleges across the country.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, released a 109-page bipartisan report in November 2019, concluding that "the most aggressive" exploiter of U.S. openness has been China. It found China used its Thousand Talents Program over the past two decades to exploit access to U.S. research labs and academic institutions. The FBI has deemed the Chinese effort to be a form of “nontraditional espionage.”

Chicago-born Mingqing Xiao, a mathematics professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, was charged in April on two counts of wire fraud and a false statements charge for allegedly getting grants from China’s Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province and working for the Chinese government-affiliated Shenzhen University but concealing those ties when applying for and “fraudulently” receiving a $151,099 grant from the U.S. government’s National Science Foundation.

Lin Yang, a former University of Florida professor who had resided in Tampa but went back to China in 2019, was charged with six counts of wire fraud and four counts of making false statements to the U.S. government in an indictment unsealed in February, which alleged he fraudulently obtained $1.75 million in grant money from the National Institutes of Health while hiding his connections to the Thousand Talents Program through China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University and concealing his efforts to profit in China.

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Song Guo Zheng, a leading immunologist and rheumatologist at the Ohio State University, was arrested in July 2020 while apparently trying to flee to China after he illegally received more than $4 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health while he concealed his affiliation with China’s Talents Plan at Sun-Yat Sen University, and he pleaded guilty in November 2020 to making false statements to federal authorities.

Texas A&M professor Zhengdong Cheng was arrested in August 2020 on charges of conspiracy, making false statements, and wire fraud for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in NASA research grants while allegedly concealing his Thousand Talents connection and hiding that he was also the director of the Soft Matter Institute of Guangdong University of Technology and professor at the Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies at Southern University of Science and Technology in China.

Simon Saw-Teong Ang, a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville professor who received millions of dollars of grant research money from the U.S. government, including $500,000 from NASA, was arrested in July 2020 for working as the director of the U.S. school’s High Density Electronics Center while also allegedly being a secret participant in China’s Thousand Talents Program and concealing his business dealings in China.

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Emory University professor Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li pleaded guilty in May 2020 related to him filing a false tax return connected to his secret work through the Thousand Talents Program at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and then Jinan University, receiving at least $500,000 in foreign income that he never reported while he used animal modeling to study brain disease at the Georgia school.

Dr. Qing Wang, a professor of molecular genetics at Case Western Reserve University, was arrested in May 2020 on claims that he had lied to investigators and committed wire fraud tied to $3.6 million in funding he had received at the Cleveland Clinic, receiving the U.S. grants while secretly serving as the dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, getting funding from China’s National Natural Science Foundation, and hiding his participation in the Thousand Talents Program.

West Virginia University physics professor Dr. James Patrick Lewis, who researched molecular reactions in coal conversion technology, pleaded guilty in March 2020 to committing federal program fraud, admitting he secretly joined China’s “Global Experts 1000 Talents Plan” and was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

And Anming Hu, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was arrested in February 2020 on multiple counts of wire fraud and false statements, with investigators alleging he worked to defraud NASA by hiding his affiliation with the Beijing University of Technology.

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A leading Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Gang Chen, was arrested in January of this year and is accused of concealing millions of dollars in contracts with the Chinese government while receiving millions of dollars in federal grants to conduct advanced energy research for the U.S. government. Chen, the director of the MIT Pappalardo Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratories, was funded by more than $19 million in grants and awards from the Department of Energy, the Pentagon, and other federal agencies, according to charging documents, while Chen and his research group received at least $29 million in foreign funding, including $19 million from China’s Southern University of Science and Technology. Prosecutors contended Gang acted as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government “at the request of the PRC Consulate Office in New York” and served as a member of at least two Talent Programs.

“Why have we, a group of MIT faculty, signed a letter in support of Gang Chen? Because if such a prominent citizen of our country, a loyal American, a person who has raised his children here, a beloved teacher and scientist who has dedicated his creativity and energy to his students and MIT and this country, is criminally targeted for routine scientific and educational activities, we are all at risk,” a January letter signed by more than two dozen MIT faculty said. “Questioning his loyalty is an outrage, and reminds us of dark periods in history. We therefore felt it imperative to step up to defend our colleague and, more broadly, to protect the fundamental freedoms of scientific research and open education. The last line in the Letter – ‘We are all Gang Chen’ – captures our feelings and concerns.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said last July the bureau has more than 2,000 active investigations that trace back to China, half of which are related directly to intellectual property theft, while the other half are a variety of counterintelligence investigations. He said these cases represented a 1,300% increase from one decade ago and noted the bureau was opening a new counterintelligence investigation tied to China every 10 hours.

Top counterintelligence official highlights foreign espionage threats

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John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security and the head of the DOJ’s China Initiative, said in November that more than 1,000 foreign researchers affiliated with the Chinese military left the United States following the crackdown last summer that resulted in half a dozen members of the People’s Liberation Army studying in the U.S. being arrested and charged with concealing their ties to China's military and thus committing visa fraud while acting as students or researchers at U.S. universities.

Chen Song, who concealed her ties to the People’s Liberation Army as a researcher at Stanford University, was hit with charges in July 2020 and then with more in February, accusing her of attempting to obstruct the investigation into her student visa fraud and of destroying documents and lying to investigators. Song allegedly lied about her Chinese military service ending before she applied to study brain diseases at Stanford University, when prosecutors said that, in reality, she was still secretly a part of the Chinese military.

Tang Juan, a Chinese military researcher who hid out in the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco last summer, was also arrested and after being charged with visa fraud. This was right around the time that the U.S. ordered the Chinese government to shut down its consulate in Houston over concerns about espionage, with China retaliating by ordering the U.S. to shut down its consulate in Chengdu.

Xin Wang, a Chinese national arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in June 2020 while trying to flee to China, was a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who revealed he had lied on his visa application and was actually an active-duty member in the PLA. L.T., a Chinese national in the U.S. on a research visa, revealed to Customs and Border Protection last summer that while she was a researcher at Duke University, she was also being funded by the China Scholarship Council and had concealed her affiliations with the PLA General Hospital and PLA Medical Academy.

Kaikai Zhao, a graduate student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University, was also arrested last summer after allegedly lying on her visa, claiming never to have served in the Chinese military when, in fact, Zhao served at the National University of Defense Technology and attended the Chinese Air Force Aviation University.

Hu Haizhou, a Chinese military-linked researcher, was caught by U.S. authorities at the airport in August 2020 attempting to flee to China with highly advanced computer code that could be used for underwater robots and aircraft engines that he stole from the University of Virginia’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, according to the FBI, which said Hu admitted he also worked for the Chinese Key Laboratory for Fluid Dynamics at China’s Beihang University, which receives funding from China's air force.

And Guan Lei, a Chinese national and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, was arrested in August 2020 on federal charges of destroying evidence, tossing a hard drive into a dumpster, to obstruct an FBI investigation, with law enforcement alleging Guan may have transferred sensitive U.S. software to China’s National University of Defense Technology while denying his association with the People’s Liberation Army on his student visa.

The U.S. has arrested and charged a host of other researchers and scientists for concealing their China ties, and the Justice Department said in November 2020 that in the past year, it had also brought fraud, false statements, tax, smuggling, and other China-related charges against 10 academics working at U.S. research facilities.

Tags: News, China, China on Campus, Asia, Education, National Security

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: China on campus: How the DOJ has battled 'nontraditional espionage'

Top counterintelligence official highlights foreign espionage threats .
Orlando and "Intelligence Matters" host Michael Morell discuss espionage threats against the U.S. that have evolved in range and sophistication. © Credit: CBSNews cbsnews-intelligence-matters-podcast-horizontal-620x350.jpg Highlights Adversaries targeting private sector: "So, if you look back 20 years ago, what we were most concerned about was intelligence services targeting the U.S. government for classified information or targeting DOD technologies.

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