Over the course of the Cold War and the ensuing decades of brush fire wars, the USA has racked up it’s share of enemies and economic competitors. Fortunately for us, only a handful of countries have the wherewithal to do us much real harm. However, those that have tried, such as China, Iran, Russia and North Korea have met with considerable success. They have reaped a bonanza in intelligence and stolen US technology. The tech theft is primarily targeted at defense secrets, but it also involves commercial developments. Then there are the waves of small cyber-attacks. They’re constantly probing our computer defenses, looking for ways to peek behind every closed door, from your personal computer files to the Pentagon.
Foreign students here on temporary visas made up 46 percent of science and engineering graduate students at Georgia Institute of Technology and Michigan State and 41 percent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009, according to a federal survey. China sent 76,830 graduate students to U.S. universities in 2010-2011, more than any other country and up almost 16 percent from the prior year, according to the Institute of International Education in New York. Most of these students are not a threat, but those that are represent significant ongoing damage that can’t be sustained without grave consequences to the economy and our military.”Russian spy Lidiya Guryeva was pursuing a master’s degree in business at Columbia under the name of Cynthia Murphy. Guryeva was arrested for acting as an agent of a foreign power and deported back to Russia. Source: U.S. Department of Justice.
While most international students, researchers and professors come to the U.S. for legitimate reasons, there are some that are on covert missions. Universities are an “ideal place” for foreign intelligence services “to find recruits, propose and nurture ideas, learn and even steal research data, or place trainees,” according to a 2011 FBI report.
“In one instance described in the report, the hosts of an international conference invited a U.S. researcher to submit a paper. When she gave her talk at the conference, they requested a copy, hooked a thumb drive to her laptop and downloaded every file. In another, an Asian graduate student arranged for researchers back home to visit an American university lab and take unauthorized photos of equipment so they could reconstruct it, the report said.” Source Bloomberg
Most recently a 27 year old Chinese female posing as a student wooed a 59 year old Army Reserve Lt. Col. and defense contractor. She was able to get him to give up sensitive defense secrets before he was arrested by the FBI. This is an old tactic known in the spy trade at the Honey trap. Now former Lt. Col Benjamin Pierce Bishop sits disgraced in prison, his life ruined, wondering how he fell for such an obvious deception!
Moving closer to home, an unusual number of Chinese students enrolled at Sacramento State has caught the attention of the FBI and has raised concerns over a potential spying problem.
The FBI has warned the public many times that China has been recruiting graduate students and professors to teach in China for short terms, hoping to milk them for whatever sensitive information they may possess. More than one professor from CSU-Chico has been the guest of the Chinese government, teaching scientific subjects, but whether that was related to intelligence gathering or a simple academic outreach remains to be seen.
The Bloomberg news story previously noted said, “More Americans are heading overseas for schooling, becoming potential targets for intelligence services, Figliuzzi said. More than 270,000 Americans studied abroad for credit in 2009-2010, up 4 percent from the year before. President Barack Obama has announced an initiative to send 100,000 American students to China, and China has committed 10,000 scholarships for them.” This is is a brilliant scheme….for China, since most of the spy activity originates with them. And why not? They have the most to gain and the consequences are almost nil. America is like one big fat target, from the military to academia, to the private sector, all are potential targets for spy operations.
Most of the recent spying has come from student using their status to gain access to sensitive areas of research and at the same time to cultivate friendships among our instructors. teachers and researchers for future exploitation.
Thanks to outsourcing most of our industry, the last bastion of American exceptionalism is likely to come from our technological leadership. Currently, our technology outpaces the competition and our universities still turn out the best and brightest in their fields, but this may not always be the case if we continue on our current course.
What happens when India, China or Russia can graduate students with an education equal to our Ivy League Universities? What happens to our economy when we’re not the first in innovation anymore and the trade imbalance crushes the dollar? It doesn’t take much imagination to understand these things will take a heavy toll on us. And unless we are prepared to make a course correction, we’re going to have a chance to answer those questions and more. Chances are, we’ll see that happen before the next generation reaches retirement age.
One of Abraham Lincoln’s less known quotes may be one of his most prophetic. ” I see a very dark cloud on America’s horizon, and that cloud is coming from Rome.”
Bottom line: America is taking a beating from the vandals (spying) and the economic competition is fierce. So far we don’t have any good answers, unless hand wringing works.