US intelligence agencies say China is using student spies to steal technological and trade secrets.
A Chinese student, Ji Chaoqun was, was arrested in September last year, accused of acting as an "illegal agent" at the direction of a "high-level intelligence officer" of a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security, China's top espionage agency, the Department of Justice said at the time.
In August 2015, Ji, an electrical engineering student in Chicago, sent an email to a Chinese national titled "Midterm test questions."
More than two years later, the email would turn up in an FBI probe in the Southern District of Ohio involving a suspected Chinese intelligence officer who authorities believed was trying to acquire technical information from a defense contractor.
Investigators took notice.
They identified the email's writer as Ji Chaoqun, who would go on to enlist in the US Army Reserve. His email, they say, had nothing to do with exams.
Instead, at the direction of a high-level Chinese intelligence official, Ji allegedly attached background reports on eight US-based individuals who Beijing could target for potential recruitment as spies, according to a federal criminal complaint.
The eight – naturalized US citizens originally from Taiwan or China – had worked in science and technology. Seven had worked for or recently retired from US defense contractors. The complaint says all of them were perceived as rich targets for a new form of espionage that China has been aggressively pursuing to win a silent war against the US for information and global influence.
While Ji has not been convicted, the circumstances outlined in his case demonstrate how China is using people from all walks of life with increasing frequency, current and former US intelligence officials tell CNN.
Beijing is relying on expatriate Chinese scientists, businesspeople and students like Ji – one of roughly 350,000 from China who study in the US every year – to gain access to anything and everything at American universities and companies that's of interest to Beijing, according to current and former US intelligence officials, lawmakers and several experts.
Leveraging students is part of a persistent, aggressive Chinese effort to undermine American industries, steal American secrets and eventually diminish American influence in the world so that Beijing can advance its own agenda, US officials, analysts and experts said.
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