China's Ambassador, Diplomat in New York Secretly Recruited Scientists, Says FBI

  • FBI has been investigating a scientist in Connecticut

  • The court documents almost certainly suggested that researcher was associated with Thousand Talents Program

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said that China's ambassador in Washington and a Chinese diplomat in New York City secretly helped in the recruitment of scientists in the U.S.

An affidavit, filed in federal court in 2019 and unsealed in April this year, revealed China's tactics as U.S. officials have warned about Beijing's espionage capabilities. The name of "China," almost redacted from the court documents, even though it does appear at least once, apparently after it missed in the redaction process.

The affidavit details, first reported by the Daily Beast, revealed that an FBI special agent wrote in the document that the federal bureau was investigating a scientist in Connecticut. The agent who is specialized in counterintelligence also mentioned that the scientist was knowingly and willfully working in the U.S. on behalf of government-controlled and government-directed entities.

The affidavit revealed that the aim of the unnamed scientist was to recruit high-level molecular geneticists and stem cell researchers to work at state-controlled universities and laboratories in China, and for the purpose of acquiring and transferring to those state-controlled universities and laboratories, cutting-edge molecular genetics and stem-cell research and technology developed at leading academic and private-sector research platforms in the U.S.

FBI said, "those efforts are undertaken ... with the [Chinese] government's publicly-declared national security objectives of technology transfer and human capital acquisition."

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) YouTube Grab

Researcher on Foreign Soil

It was revealed that the scientist, whose name was redacted in the court filing, became a citizen of the U.S. in 2009 November. He spent several years while working in genetics research in America. As per the document, the individual used to carry out his research projects at a redacted school, determined to be Yale University, which told the FBI that it had no policy requiring researchers or professors to disclose their involvement with outside entities.

In the redacted documents, the U.S. Justice Department said that it was not bringing charges against the scientist, whom the authorities suspected of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Now, he is believed to be working at Southern Medical University in China.

As per the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, the bureau has more than 2,000 active investigations linked to the Chinese government. The case of the scientist had been investigated by the agency for two years. Later, FBI agents received information about the individual from a confidential source in September 2018 who revealed that the scientist had been traveling between the U.S. and China to recruit others in universities abroad.

As per the Washington Examiner, the source indicated someone from the Chinese government likely approached the scientist in question and assigned him with recruiting individuals in the U.S.

Thousand Talents Program

China Coronavirus Pixabay

It is China's elaborated effort to recruit overseas researchers to send their skills home which later started to worry the U.S., which saw the TTP as a mode to encourage economic espionage and theft of intellectual property, one of the major issues behind the trade war between China and the U.S. Even though the documents are heavily redacted, the affidavit almost certainly suggested that researcher was associated with TTP, revealing that he was associated with efforts to recruit other experts to share their research with or to work in China.

As per the affidavit, the source told the FBI that China's ambassador to the U.S. and a diplomat in New York would be attending a science summit in Boston with other Chinese officials who would visit the U.S. to "recruit individuals." However, the 'not redacted' version of the affidavit does include the name of Cui Tiankai, who has been the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. since 2013, or the diplomat in New York City.

While denying the allegations of recruiting scientists by diplomats in the U.S., China's spokesperson Fang Hong said in a statement to the Washington Examiner that "the allegation is nothing but a malicious fabrication."

As per the report, in January another source revealed that the travel expenses of the researcher who has been investigated by the FBI, were funded by the Chinese government, and the scientist's behavior was indicative of Beijing's backing.

FBI noted in the court documents that the Xi Jinping's government has been taking "active steps" to hide its recruitment programs from "increasing scrutiny" by American authorities, directing handlers to change the communication procedure with potential recruits. The CCP government in China directing handlers to use methods other than email, such as telephone or fax to communicate, said the court filings adding that they continued to use the same communication methods.

The court documents showed that the U.S. Justice Department scrutinized the researcher under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and that the DOJ's FARA Unit determined that the scientist had not registered as an agent of China. FBI obtained warrants to search the Connecticut scientist's email accounts and phone records which revealed his connection to the Chinese government representatives.

The agency also described the scientist as the president of the China Association for Science and Technology. His website describes the group "as the bridge linking Chinese science and technology community with the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government."