Tuesday 10 April 2018
Chinese National Convicted of Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets in Kansas
Recently, Newsweek has published an article titled, “A Chinese Scientist Stole American Rice and will Spend a Decade in Prison,” by Max Kunter. The article explains how Mr. Zhang worked for a biotechnology company, Ventria, around Manhattan, Kansas (the location of Kansas State University) and genetically modified seeds from that company were found in the baggage of Chinese research visitors from a Chinese crop research institute on their way back to China. Mr. Zhang is Chinese national and a legal permanent resident. He has been convicted of conspiring to steal trade secrets. He will serve 10 years in prison.
Interestingly, the article notes:
FBI Director Christopher Wray has also warned about China. Asked during a Senate intelligence committee hearing in February about the counterintelligence risk from Chinese students in the U.S., Wray said, “The use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country…. They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have.”
Here are a couple of observations. First, there could be an argument that this activity is not sponsored by the government in China. Mr. Zhang may be acting illegally, but on his own accord. He may realize that this seed is very valuable and that by passing the seed on to co-conspirators he may be entitled to a piece of a new company started in China selling the same seed in other markets. The people starting the new company may similarly be operating without government approval or sponsorship. However, it is interesting that he passed the seeds on to a Chinese crop research institute. I wonder who sponsors the work of the research institute. Mr. Zhang was also defended by public defenders, but I imagine that if this was state sponsored the government of China is likely not going to pay for his defense—that would look bad. Second, I am curious to learn more about data substantiating Mr. Wray’s comments about “every field office . . . around the country.”