Posted on March 31, 2015

Chinese Student Spies Overwhelm US

Joshua Philipp, Epoch Times, September 19, 2014

Intelligence agencies around the world typically regard China’s approach to spying as sloppy and unprofessional. While many other countries focus on stealth and finesse for espionage, China’s focus is on mass numbers.

While regarded as unprofessional, China’s approach has also been extremely effective. The challenge posed by China comes down to a simple fact: It has too many spies for foreign intelligence agencies to keep track of.

“Our nation is overwhelmed. The problem is too big,” said Paul Williams in a phone interview. Williams is chief information officer at BlackOps Partners Corporation, which does counterintelligence and protection of trade secrets and competitive advantage for Fortune 500 companies.

Student spies–often college kids–play a fundamental role in this system. They help bolster a system of espionage where each person does a small share of the work. It’s based on the idea that you could have one spy steal 10,000 documents, or you could have 10,000 spies each steal one document.

By taking the approach of mass numbers for espionage, the Chinese regime has U.S. intelligence agencies outnumbered. In terms of both keeping tabs on their activities, and prosecuting Chinese spies, the United States can’t keep up.

The idea behind recruiting students as spies, according to Williams, is “if you can groom them in college” then they can be used to gain access to research at universities. After college, he added, “You can pick those students then follow their careers into corporate America.”

The Chinese regime can work spies recruited in college into positions in research, government agencies, or U.S. companies.

According to Williams many Chinese spies are not official spies. “Yes, you have those hardcore Chinese spies, but those are usually the minority,” he said. “The majority are just people who get asked to do something on the side.”

According to sources, the grooming process typically takes place before the students leave to study abroad. They may get approached by Chinese security officials who remind them to remain loyal to the motherland, and ask them to report back with anything that could benefit China.

For them, spying is often viewed as a matter of patriotic duty.

Williams said the approach typically works because the Chinese spy agencies don’t ask the students for much. The individual contribution, he noted, is often so minuscule that many may not even think of what they’re doing as espionage.


In April, the FBI started a public information campaign warning U.S. students traveling abroad to be wary of intelligence networks interested in recruiting them as spies.

The FBI released a video telling the story of Glenn Shriver, an American student who was recruited by Chinese spies while studying in Shanghai. He was later caught and sentenced to four years in prison in 2011 after his spy handlers tried getting him into the CIA.