China is Outsmarting the Visa System to Gain An Intelligence Edge

On Monday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of Zhongsan Liu on charges of conspiring to fraudulently obtain research scholar visas for Chinese government employees whose real intention was not to gain an education, but to conduct intellectual and national security espionage.

According to the complaint, Liu tried to secure J-1 research visas at several U.S. academic institutions for Chinese officials. In turn, those officials sought to recruit scientists, engineers, and other experts to go to work in China as part of an effort to obtain American intellectual property.

Liu, who ran a Chinese government front group called the China Association for International Exchange Personnel, also was connected to China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a state-backed program launched in 2008 for the purposes of encouraging Chinese students and academics to pursue research knowledge in the STEM fields outside of China. Chinese nationals comprise about one-third of the 1.2 million foreign students in the U.S.

“Rather than helping to bring students to the U.S., Liu allegedly conspired to defraud this country’s visa system to advance his efforts to attract U.S. experts to China,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. 

Monday’s indictment simply confirms the degree to which China is willing to illegitimately use the theft of technology and intellectual property to achieve its legitimate national security interests.

Last month, Feng Tao, a University of Kansas researcher, was indicted on federal fraud charges for not disclosing that he also was a full-time professor at a university in China, while a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist was charged in May with lying to officials about his connections to the Thousand Talents Plan.

In July, FBI Director Christopher Wray specifically pointed to the Thousand Talents Plan as a primary means that China is employing to gain access to critical economic and national security intelligence.

“There is no country that poses a more severe counterintelligence threat to his country right now than China,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, through a variety of actors all working on behalf of China,” he added.

The strategy is not a new one, nor are China’s activities unknown to intelligence specialists.

Speaking at a 2018 Aspen Institute conference, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, argued that while most students “are here legitimately and doing great research,” the reality is that academia “is a tool that is used by the Chinese government to facilitate nefarious activity here in the US”.

The State Department announced in June 2018 that limits would be placed on Chinese (PRC) national students and others involved in certain high-technology fields, including increasing the number of cases subject to interagency clearance.

Not surprisingly, members of the media and academia responded with the dramatic outrage which has become too common regarding the administration’s immigration enforcement efforts. While those sheltered in their ivory towers or newsrooms see even the most limited restrictions on student visas as an overreach, others argue that the U.S. government and academia are falling well short of adequately combating espionage threats.  

“Where theft of ideas, programs, plans, and technology is concerned, as with the trade imbalance, China (and almost certainly other nations as well to a greater or lesser degree) is cleaning our clocks,” said Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) fellow Dan Cadman in an August report on weaknesses in the student visa program.

Recognizing that there is a problem may be the easy part, as the solutions are likely to require some semblance of balance between what is gained by having foreign students in universities and colleges and what is lost by even just a few bad actors stealing American intellectual property.

Of the 1.2 million international students, thousands hail from nations which are openly hostile to the U.S., including some 13,000 Iranians, 10,000 Turks, 5,500 Russians, and more than 700 Syrians. It is hardly unreasonable to call for increased scrutiny and enhanced monitoring of all who are in the U.S. on student visas.

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  1. avatar

    When I worked for a defense contractor this was common knowledge. It appears that the Democrats and many businesses who are either controlled by leftists, more concerned about dollars than about our country, or both, have been aiding and abetting the Chinese in their efforts to destroy the U.S.A.
    Most all universities in our country are controlled by leftists and promote this situation.
    If we don’t get the leftists out of our education system we are going to lose this war. Most schools from kindergarten through post-grad are teaching (indoctrinating) the students to be good socialists. They create millions of anti-Americans annually. Eventually they will control the country and the values which made our country the most prosperous and most powerful will be destroyed.

  2. avatar
    Stephen Russell on

    Use for trade talks on student visas in subject mix,, make China pay since they use schools to train spies for the US tech field & rob US.
    CHINA Wants OUR Tech

  3. avatar

    It would have been like allowing Germans to attend US universities and work in US industries during world war 2. Earlier this year Joe Biden dismissed any concerns about China, saying “I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what. They’re not competition for us.” Wonder if that has anything to do with the 1.5 billion dollar deal Biden’s son signed with the government owned bank of China in 2013, shortly after a trip on Air Force Two to China by Biden and son. China is not our friend by any stretch.

    And then there’s the fact that Biden bragged in front of cameras that he threatened the president of Ukraine in 2016 that Ukraine would not receive a billion dollars in loan guarantees if he did not fire a prosecutor who was investigating the company that Hunter Biden was a board member of. “If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.” Where was the media on those two stories.

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