Strider Technologies has released a comprehensive assessment of China’s efforts to acquire U.S. technology to advance its own interests. The review, titled “The Los Alamos Club, How the People’s Republic of China Recruits Top Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Advance Its Military Program,” delves into how China is focusing on nuclear secrets.
FSO must read
From the author’s perspective, what stands out is that the report should be a must-read for every Facility Security Officer (FSO) and anyone within the defense or intelligence community who has access to classified information, as it details the ostensible What looks like a well-intentioned effort by China. In reality, however, China has a systematic and orchestrated effort focused on acquiring U.S. ingenuity and know-how, thereby enabling China to save on R&D costs and outperform its own research efforts before 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 advanced technologies of interest, and a whole-of-government approach to acquiring the required information. These programs range from the fully covert Ministry of State Security or the People’s Liberation Army formally recruiting sources to provide the technology needed (see MSS targeting of GE and conviction of MSS officials for economic espionage) to creating an individual with expertise Commercial arrangements with Chinese entities, the most commonly used tool with members of academia.
In addition, the age-old notion that China only targets Chinese diaspora should be set aside. Although the Strider report identified 162 Chinese scientists who worked at Los Alamos and returned to China to support multiple R&D programs in China, including many who participated in China’s Thousand Talents Program. China’s efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese or Chinese citizens (see supplementary reading below).
China targets those who have access to information China is interested in. China then decides who is the target.
You cannot opt out. However, if you are given the opportunity to respond to unpopular methods that ask you to share your knowledge with China, you should be prepared.
not necessarily a spy
The FBI has often taken the approach that Chinese efforts to acquire American technology amount to espionage. In fact, over the years, FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly cited Chinese intellectual property theft as the primary counterintelligence threat facing the United States today. That said, as any counterintelligence salt will attest, proving the crime of espionage is much harder than knowing that espionage or illegally obtaining information is taking place and counteracting that effort.
As the report and our previous article have highlighted, many (but not all) participants in the Thousand Talents Program are actually double-investigating when they receive research funding, and those who do not declare to the U.S. funding entity (such as the Department of Energy), they also have ties to Chinese entities, often inadvertently breaking regulations.
The FBI’s sweeping approach under its “China Initiative” has led many to accuse the entity of xenophobia, as detailed in a September 2021 letter signed by 177 Stanford professors to Attorney General Garland,” The Chinese initiative has strayed markedly from its stated mission: it is harming U.S. research and technological competitiveness, and fueling prejudice that in turn raises concerns about racial profiling.”
More than just nuclear technology
Readers of this report should note that China’s talent acquisition strategy, which has been repeatedly mentioned in Clearance Jobs, is not limited to the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear program. In fact, the Thousand Talents Program targets other departments of the U.S. government and academia, including the U.S. Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, NASA, Harvard, The Ohio State University, Emory University, Duke University, Stanford University and many other entities.
Strider call to action
We asked Strider co-founder and CEO Greg Levesque why the focus was on Los Alamos, and he shared: “We’re focusing on Los Alamos because it’s the crown jewel of the US laboratory system, Critical to our national security. The tactics foreign governments use to obtain information and our technology have evolved over the past few decades, and our counterintelligence efforts need to be adjusted accordingly. The report’s findings bring back a question , if this happens at Los Alamos, what happens to other labs?”
As detailed in this report and in Levesque’s comments, the bottom line is that China is stealing American intellectual property. Strider concludes the report by stating, “Government-funded labs, research institutes and private industry can do more to identify potential counterintelligence and intellectual property theft risks posed by individuals in China seeking to leverage their talents in the tech race. Dominance. In addition, like-minded countries urgently need to work together to protect their innovation hubs and compete with China to attract, retain and protect leading talent.”
Additional reading on the Thousand Talents Program and China’s intellectual property acquisition work:
September 2021 – Is the DOJ China Initiative really identifying espionage cases?
January 2021 – NASA scientist pleads guilty, exposing more espionage from China’s Thousand Talents Program
July 2020 – Chinese scientists of the Thousand Talents Program arrested while fleeing
May 2020 – China’s Thousand Talents Program Continues to Gain American Knowledge
February 2019 – FBI Director: China is using U.S. higher education against the U.S.