Spies Among Us: Boston Researchers Lied To U.S. Government About Ties to China

Harvard University
Harvard University described the charges as "extremely serious"

A crackdown in the Boston area shows that spies are amongst us, and not just in our favorite television series and movies out of Hollywood. The United States brought charges against two Chinese nationals which are part of “aggressive” efforts by the U.S. “to block what they say are Chinese attempts to steal American scientific and technological advances” reported Reuters.

The Chinese researchers reportedly lied about their ties with the Chinese government, and two were charged with “being agents of a foreign government.” One Boston University robotics researcher, Yanqing Ye, lied about being in the Chinese army, according to prosecutors. Ye did not disclose that she is a lieutenant in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army when she acquired her visa and entered the United States. She is also “accused of passing information on research conducted at Boston University to China’s government.”

Another researcher at Beth Israel Medical Center was arrested last month for “trying to smuggle research samples out of the country.”  Zaosong Zheng, who is a cancer researcher, was arrested at Boston’s Logan International Airport “as he tried to leave the United States with 21 vials containing sensitive biological samples.”

Researchers stealing information for China is dangerous enough, but another man, Charles Lieber, actually held the position of “Chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.” Lieber was reportedly working for China’s ‘Thousand Talents Plan’ which “aims to attract research specialists working overseas,” essentially a glorified recruiter for the Chinese government.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said in a news conference of the charges, “this is a very carefully directed effort by the Chinese government to fill what it views as its own strategic gaps.” Lieber and the researchers were in positions to find and exploit some of the United States’ most high-tech capabilities and brilliant minds of the science world.

Joe Bonavolonta, head of the FBI’s Boston field office, made it clear what a serious scenario was uncovered. Bonavolonta said Lieber had received “millions of dollars from the Chinese government and lied about it to federal investigators and officials at Harvard.” Officials say the suspect is cooperating with investigators, but they seek to determine if anything “other than money” motivated Lieber.

Assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, instructed universities within the United States to be vigilant when it comes to China. “The Chinese government has made it a priority to develop its technological knowledge at American expense” said Demers.

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