Strider Technologies released a comprehensive review of China’s efforts to obtain U.S. technologies to advance China’s own interests. The review, “The Los Alamos Club, How the People’s Republic of China Recruited Leading Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Advance its Military Programs” is a deep dive into how China’s efforts focused on nuclear secrets.
FSO mandatory reading
The most salient point, from this writer’s perspective, is the report should be mandatory reading for every Facility Security Officer (FSO) and those who have access to classified information within the defense or intelligence community, as it details what on the surface appears to be benign Chinese effort. Yet in reality, China has a systemic well-orchestrated effort focused on the acquisition of U.S. ingenuity and know-how, allowing China to save research and development costs, and leap-frog their own research efforts ahead of adversaries or potential adversaries.
Since the Chinese Academy of Sciences created China’s “863 Program” (March 1986), China has had a systematic program to acquire the advanced technology of interest and has used an all-of-government approach to acquire this desired information. The programs range from completely covert where sources are formally recruited by the Ministry of State Security or the People’s Liberation Army to provide the desired technologies (See targeting of General Electric by MSS and conviction of MSS officer for Economic Espionage) to the creation of one-off commercial arrangements between individuals with know-how and Chinese entities, the most often used vehicle with members of academia.
In addition, one should shelve the age-old perspective that China only targets members of China’s diaspora. Though the Strider report identifies 162 Chinese scientists who had worked at Los Alamos and returned to the PRC to support a number of Chinese domestic research and development programs, including many who were participatory in China’s Thousand Talent Program. China’s efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese or Chinese citizens (see additional reading below).
China targets those with access to information of interest to China. China then decides who is the target.
You, cannot opt out. You should, however, be prepared in the event you have the opportunity to respond to an unsolicited, unwanted approach asking you to share your knowledge with China.
Not necessarily espionage
The FBI has often taken the approach that the Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. technologies has been tantamount to espionage. Indeed, over the years, FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly referenced how China’s theft of intellectual property is the main counterintelligence threat that the U.S. faces today. That said, and as any counterespionage salt will attest, proving espionage to conviction is much harder than knowing espionage or illicit acquisition of information is occurring and neutralizing that effort.
With the Thousand Talent Program, as the report, and our prior pieces have emphasized, many (but not all) of the participants were effectively double-dipping when acquiring research funding, and those who did not declare to the U.S. funding entity (for example Department of Energy) that they also had a relationship with Chinese entities, were often committing regulatory violations with their sins of omission.
The FBI’s wholesale approach under their “China Initiative” has caused many to accuse the entity of being xenophobic, as detailed in the letter sent to Attorney General Garland in September 2021 signed by 177 Stanford professors in which was said, “the China Initiative has deviated significantly from its claimed mission: it is harming the United States research and technology competitiveness and it is fueling biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling.”
Not just nuclear technology
Readers should be cautioned when reading this report, that the Chinese talent acquisition strategy, a topic about which has been written many times in Clearance Jobs, is not only targeting the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Lab nuclear program. Indeed, the Thousand Talents Program has targeted, other elements of the U.S. government and academia to include other entities within the DOE, the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Harvard, Ohio State, Emory, Duke, Stanford, and many other entities.
Strider’s call to action
We asked Strider’s Co-Founder and CEO, Greg Levesque why the focus on Los Alamos, and he shared, “We focused on Los Alamos because it is the crown jewel in America’s laboratory system and critical to our national security. The tactics foreign governments are using to acquire information and our technologies have evolved from decades past, and our counterintelligence efforts need to adapt in kind. The report’s findings bring home the question, if this is happening at Los Alamos, what’s going on at the other labs?”
The bottom line, as detailed in this report, and by Levesque’s comment, is that China is fleecing the United States of their intellectual property. Strider notes in their report’s closing, “more can be done by government-funded laboratories, research institutions, and private industry to identify potential counterintelligence and IP theft risks posed by individuals whose talent the PRC is seeking to leverage in its race for science and technology dominance. Moreover, it is an urgent national security imperative for like-minded nations to work together to protect their innovation centers and compete with China to attract, retain, and protect leading talent.”
Additional reading on the Thousand Talent Program and China’s intellectual property acquisition efforts:
September 2021 – Is the DOJ China Initiative Actually Identifying Espionage Cases?