Report: Foreign Espionage and Higher Education

July 30, 2018

An article in Politico Magazine about foreign espionage activities on the West Coast of the U.S. reports on several cases relevant to higher education.

The article cites former intelligence officials who say that during the Olympic torch run in San Francisco in 2008, “Chinese officials bussed in 6,000-8,000 J-Visa holding students -- threatening them with the loss of Chinese government funding -- from across California to disrupt Falun Gong, Tibetan, Uighur and pro-democracy protesters” who lined the torch run route. Chinese intelligence officials allegedly directed the students’ movements in order to overwhelm the anti-Beijing protesters.

The Politico article also reported on links between some Chinese Students and Scholars Associations and the Chinese government. The article notes that ties between the campus-based CSSAs and the Chinese government vary: some groups are uninterested in forging ties with Chinese government officials, while others consider themselves to be directly under the "guidance" of the embassies and receive funding from them. Politico quoted one former intelligence officer who said that "intelligence officers in diplomatic facilities are the primary point of contact for students in CSSAs."

The article reported on one case, about half a decade ago, in which counterintelligence officials suspected that a graduate student affiliated with the CSSA at the University of California, Berkeley, was working with China's Ministry of State Security and reporting on the activities of fellow Chinese students. In another case, in the Midwest in the mid-2000s, a student affiliated with a CSSA allegedly informed an MSS official working under diplomatic cover in Chicago of another student's contacts with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The student was reportedly flown out of the country.

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment.

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