There are over 350,000 visiting scholars and students from China in the United States. Some of them are there at the direction of and under the control of the Chinese government. Some are also members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Air Force and Navy and for reasons known only to the Chinese government opt to obscure and hide their military affiliation using cover stories and non-military affiliation. Chen Song is alleged to be such an individual.

Chen Song is a Chinese national doing neurological research at Stanford University. The U.S. government, via the Department of Justice (DoJ), alleges Song hid her status as Chinese PLA Air Force officer when applying for and receiving her J1 visa and charged her on July 17, 2020 with visa fraud. She was arrested the next day. In February 2021 additional charges were levied against Song. She pleads, not guilty.

FBI Director Wray commented in November 2020 how “The Chinese Communist Party’s theft of sensitive information and technology isn’t a rumor or a baseless accusation. It’s very real, and it’s part of a coordinated campaign by the Chinese government, which the China Initiative is helping to disrupt. The FBI opens a new China-related counterintelligence case nearly every 10 hours and we’ll continue our aggressive efforts to counter China’s criminal activity.” He reiterated this metric during congressional hearings surrounding the issuance of the ODNI’s Annual Threat Assessment (April 13). 

About Chen Song

Song was issued her J1 non-immigrant visa on November 23, 2018. She arrived in the United States on December 23, 2018 to participate in an approved “work-and-study exchange visitor program.” 

What is not in question is Song’s knowledge and expertise in the world of neurology and in fact, her stay was originally going to be for one year and was extended for an additional year, with Stanford University acknowledging the benefit of her work in myasthenia gravis. She was scheduled to depart the United States in January 2021. 

Song’s visa fraud

Her visa application indicates that Song served in the PLA from September 2000 through June 2011. Her employment was located at Xi Diaoyutai Hospital. 

Open source research conducted by the FBI, beginning with Song’s own curriculum vitae updated in 2019, included four peer-reviewed publications which included Song as a co-author and indicated she was affiliated with the Chinese military. 

  • 2012 – Article with affiliation to the “Department of Neurology, Tangdu Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi’an, China.”
  • 2015 – Article with affiliation to the “Department of Neurology, General Hospital of Air Force, Beijing, China.”
  • 2017 – Article with the same affiliation as the 2012 piece. 
  • 2017 – Article with the same affiliation as the 2015 piece. 

The FBI went to the web on July 13, 2020 and their research identified Song as an attending physician at the Air Force General Hospital in the Department of Neurology engaged in targeted treatments of myasthenia gravis. The web entry included a photo of Song in her military uniform. 

The photo’s metadata associated with the web posting puts the date of the photo’s origin at May 2017. Additional FBI research, the criminal complaint tells us, found numerous mentions of Song involved with the PLA Air Force, including a co-authored study on “silent brain infarction experienced by flying personnel.”

During the July 13, 2020 interview with Song, the FBI asked her to explain the results of their research, specifically the photo of her in a military uniform and she responded, “I think it’s better I keep silent.” 

A subsequent lawful search of Song’s residence and devices produced information in which she identified “Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” noted on her visa paperwork as a “false front.” Additionally, in communicating with Chinese government personnel for her extension of one year to continue her research at Stanford, she commented that aspects of her application included classified information (Chinese government information). 

Song double’s down 

According to the grand jury’s superseding indictment when Song became aware of her colleague from the Fourth Military Medical University, Juan TANG being interviewed by the FBI on June 20, 2020 and subsequently absconding to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, Song began to hide her connections to the PLA by deleting a folder on her external hard drive titled, “2018 Visiting Scholar Program,” which contained numerous files establishing her connection to the PLA.

Within two days of TANG’s arrest, the aforementioned online references to Song began to disappear, including those which contained the photo of Song in a military uniform. 

Song also began pruning “damaging emails” from her Hotmail account between August 4, 2020 through November 07, 2020 which contained information “relevant to her military service, employment and affiliations.”

Classified materials means CIPA applies 

The DoJ has requested that the Classified Information Procedures Act” (CIPA) be put in place “for an in camera resolution concerning specific classified information” in support of their case. Song is appealing and has asked for a “Amicus Curiae”, an individual with appropriate security clearances to review the classified materials, to determine if they will help Song’s defense. The appeal caused her April 2021 trial date to be vacated, with a new date pushed out until after July 2021, after the appeal has run its course. 

Song is currently out on $250,000 bail and is free to travel within the United States with light restrictions, pending her bench trial later this year. 

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of