Saturday, October 11, 2014

Are Chinese students in the U.S. the biggest spy network in history?

Some people might be surprised by the fact that largest number of foreign college students in this country are not from Japan, despite the fact that they all “look” like they are; only 2.6 percent of foreign students are Japanese. In fact, they are outnumbered by students from Taiwan (3 percent), Saudi Arabia (4.5 percent), Korea (9.5 percent) and India (13 percent); they do however outnumber those from Mexico (less than 2 percent). Thus some people might be even more surprised to learn that 29 percent of all foreign students in this country (about 235,000) are from China.

Yes, that China that can hardly be called “friendly” toward the United States. The country that has taken much of  U.S. manufacturing jobs, the country that has been trying to corner the market on world natural and energy resources much to our detriment, the country that has been increasingly belligerent toward the U.S. militarily, the country that usually opposes U.S. policy internationally, the country that threatens our allies in the region, and the country ruled by a man who is said to be a “reformer” at heart, but like Vladimir Putin in Russia has sought only to gain himself more and more power in a country in which dissent is usually the occasion for various levels of extreme punishment.

And China is also a country that has been accused of spying on an unprecedented scale in the U.S. It has been suggested that Chinese students in the U.S. may constitute the largest spy ring ever residing in one country in history. Of course this might seem a bit farfetched, and to a certain degree it probably is. Chinese “spy” networks, according to the “experts,” are more about quantity than quality; subtly seems to escape them. But the sheer “quantity” of potential spies “overwhelms” counterintelligence efforts to monitor their activities.

Why is the U.S. allowing so may Chinese students into the country—especially in technologically sensitive fields that would obviously only serve the Chinese government and military in their efforts to subvert the U.S.? Supposedly the theory is that by bringing in Chinese students who observe the “freedoms” available to them in the U.S., they will take home with them a certain political “indoctrination” that will aid in the establishment of a core of young people who desire political change in China. The truth is probably more mundane: Cash-strapped American universities (like the University of Washington) actively “recruit” high tuition-paying foreign students to fill their coffers.  

But if the case is “westernizing” Chinese students, then this is wishful thinking. “High level” espionage is conducted by the military—such as in cases where a “researcher” whose military credentials are concealed “finesses” his or her spying conduct by seeking information that at first seems merely of “scientific” interest. But that which involves students and others working for U.S. companies operate out of “overseas affairs” and “work” offices, which to be funneled through is seen as a great “opportunity” to be “grateful” to the great leader and country for. Students may view the opportunity to study abroad as a “gift” or “privilege” in which they owe the state a debt. Chinese intelligence officials may remind them of this “debt” to their home country, and it is their “duty” to discover as much useful information as they can that will benefit the glorious state. 

This type of espionage can be nothing more than copying a few pages out of textbook, research notes or taking a picture or two—just “innocuous” enough not to arouse attention. The student may not even know that what he or she is doing constitutes “espionage.”  While “espionage” on this scale may seem trivial on an individual basis, if it involves thousands of students, it can amount to something rather massive. Students may merely ask for “academic” reasons access to classified information, or corporate “secrets.” Such information could be extremely valuable if it is applied to the newest technological advances. The fact that one-third of all Chinese students in this country are at the graduate level and above—as many as half who are in technological fields—only increases the opportunity for “minor” information gathering to accumulate into a major espionage gains.

Of course, students are not the only people conducting “business” for China in this country. According to the CIA, China has more than 3,000 front companies in the U.S., whose principle purpose is not to provide any useful service, but to gain access to “useful” information for the home country. This may include setting up “conferences” in which a Chinese “host” may persuade American researchers to “unwittingly” allow the dissemination of sensitive information. Of course, China isn’t the only country with students involved in espionage; Russian and Middle Eastern students have also been suspected of doing similar spying. But it is the scale of the spying done by China that is most difficult to get a grip on. 

Unfortunately, while intelligence agencies and private companies trying to guard secret or proprietary information are concerned about this development, academia seems less so. In fact, many American academics feel it is their “duty” to “share” information with “colleagues” and students, regardless of who they are or what potentially they may do with it.

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