The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI,

The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese born scientist is pursued by the US government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfictionIn September , sheriff s deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men s rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer In The Scientist and the Spy,Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far reaching investigation, which pitted a veteran FBI special agent against Florida resident Robert Mo, who after his academic career foundered took a questionable job with the Chinese agricultural company DBN and became a pawn in a global rivalryIndustrial espionage by Chinese companies lies beneath the United States recent trade war with China, and it is one of the top counterintelligence targets of the FBI But a decade of efforts to stem the problem have been largely ineffective Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, Hvistendahl describes a long history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions the role that corporate influence plays in trade secrets theft cases brought by the US government The Scientist and the Spy is both an important exploration of the issues at stake and a compelling, involving read The bias demonstrated by the author comes through clearly which casts some doubt on how true is this True Story of China When Nancy Pelosi implores Europe to avoid Chinese technology I begin to wonder what she has learned from security sources in camera For me, Pelosi has lots of integrity The book is, however, well written and presents its case forcefully, especially on the impact on US business and citizens. What makes a bad book bad This is a classic example The author has an interesting premise and has mastered the mechanics of writing but the finished product leaves you wishing she had written a journal article instead of a book.She had an interesting story to tell but the book goes wildly off the rails when she begins to include personal anecdotes in a failed attempt to bolster her credibility Then to fill space she she pads her research with opinions and speculation Hvistendahl has forgotte What makes a bad book bad This is a classic example The author has an interesting premise and has mastered the mechanics of writing but the finished product leaves you wishing she had written a journal article instead of a book.She had an interesting story to tell but the book goes wildly off the rails when she begins to include personal anecdotes in a failed attempt to bolster her credibility Then to fill space she she pads her research with opinions and speculation Hvistendahl has forgotten the journalist s maxim abandon opinions to learn the truth I couldn t finish the book, instead I simply googled the incident Farsatisfying In 1876, Englishman Henry Wickham smuggled rubber tree seeds out of theultimately ending Brazil s rubber boom The stolen seeds were successfully germinated, leading to the British establishing rubber plantations in Malaya that broke Brazil s monopoly and sent the states of as and Par into rapid decline The Opera House in Manaus, capital of as, is a melancholy reminder of the luxury rubber profits once afforded Much as rubber seeds once were, genetically engineered or mod In 1876, Englishman Henry Wickham smuggled rubber tree seeds out of theultimately ending Brazil s rubber boom The stolen seeds were successfully germinated, leading to the British establishing rubber plantations in Malaya that broke Brazil s monopoly and sent the states of as and Par into rapid decline The Opera House in Manaus, capital of as, is a melancholy reminder of the luxury rubber profits once afforded Much as rubber seeds once were, genetically engineered or modified, ie GM corn seeds have become valuable enough in the 21st century that some will resort to anything to get them Mara Hvistendahl s The Scientist and the Spy is a riveting true crime read that uses the case of Robert Mo, an employee of the Chinese agricultural company DBN, to investigate how the theft of trade secrets is now a major battlefield in the Cold War between China and America The book raises a number of questions which do not have simple answers Do these thefts across a range of industries costing the US economy dearly count as industrial espionage and threaten national security How can the US react rationally to the theft and not resort to panic and xenophobia The story starts in 2011 when an Iowa farmer spots a Chinese man in a field owned by agri giant Monsanto and calls the police American companies Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer have hybrid seeds that produce bumper crops, are resistant to pesticide and, of considerable commercial importance, only germinate once requiring farmers to repurchase seed each season In 2010, indeed, China limited the import of GM seeds partly to stop American companies from dominating the Chinese domestic market So, if a Chinese company like DBN had these hybrids, they could gain control of the domestic market and offer cheaper alternatives to western strains in the international market As hybrid corn seeds are the result of some serious research and development it s fair to call them intellectual property but should the FBI and the Justice Department work to protect this corporate IP On the Chinese side, when it comes to science and technology, the government has shown little compunction about taking short cuts No wonder, then, that some companies hire hackers to tunnel into the servers of their American competitors and then swipe designs for their latest product, or that some researchers are tempted to steal work from elsewhere, particularly if it has commercial potential DBN needed the inbred parents of a strain The female inbred can be reverse engineered, but the male needs to be collected from the field this is where Robert Mo comes in Does DBN s hair brained scheme count as espionage as the Corn giants and the FBI call it or just one company stealing off another This issue was debated in Robert Mo s trial, but the answer is still not clear cut To put things into context, DBN was not taking technology that would allow them to create weapons.Robert, whose Chinese name is Hailong, grew up in a tiny village in Sichuan Province In America, despite having two PHDs, he can t make ends meet in an academic research job and so, through a family connection back in China, gets a well paid job at DBN Along with the legitimate part of his work, sourcing pig feed, he is tasked with stealing corn seeds and sending them back to China marked with code numbers Hvistendahl builds the tension nicely Mo first becomes a person of interest for the FBI and as they begin to close in she works scientific and judicial details into a narrative that has just enough action to hook the reader.The FBI continues a cat and mouse game with on Chinese driving through Iowa filching seeds and the rural midwest comes to life through Hvistendahl s descriptions They passed diners the served sandwiches smothered in Thousand Island dressing, drinking establishments with neon signs in their windows that simply said BAR and corn paraphernalia of all kinds The FBI uses local police, border patrol and customs officers to get information The other DBN employees leave for China, but Roger, whose life in America, is trapped He is not street smart enough to save himself his ruthless boss Dr Li sees him as expendable The author visits Robert in federal prison and adds to her nuanced portrait of him by including a translation of one of his poems The story is not just about China stealing but also about America s problematic reaction to the threat The post Cold War Clinton administration passed an industrial espionage act, but after 9 11, the war on terror took the FBI s attention away for another decade When the FBI got around to dealing with Chinese espionage, the approach was troublesome One trope in particular cropped up again and again This was the idea that China commanded an army of amateur intelligence collectors of which Robert was just one part or, as Newsweek columnist Jeff Stein put it, that Robert was among the locusts in a swarm feasting on American technological secrets Hvintendahl takes exception to this blanket labelling the majority are not locusts and so she investigates the history of the FBIs approach to Chinese espionage The FBI has been overzealous in suspecting Chinese scientists and students in the USA The rationale being that the Chinese government targets all ethnic Chinese to collect information In the 1990s FBI analyst Paul Moore came up with the thousand grains of sand theory to describe Chinese intelligence gathering Moore claims that while Russia and the US use James Bond style tactics, the Chinese utilise a large number of amateurs loyal to the motherland sending through tidbits of information that are somehow pieced together However, the truth is the Chinese incentivise a small number to become agents through money and sex like any other country s intelligence operation Hvistendahl includes a number of dubious cases brought against Chinese scientists America relies on Chinese talent in its labs and so the possible risk here is that the FBI is playing into the Chinese government s hands and forcing these scientists back to China as they feel persecuted in the US.The American corporate giants, Monsanto and Pioneer said it was their intellectual property being stolen and the FBI and Justice Department worked hard to protect them But what if the Chinese had enough money simply to buy them How loyal would they be to the USA then Monsanto was recently bought by German company Bayer and the Monsanto name has been retired as it carries negative connotations, brought about by its cancer causing pesticides So Monsanto is not even American any The line between big business and government is not clear, but it would be unlikely that, for example, DBN would be allowed to sell itself to a non Chinese buyer What if Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto decided to merge Would antitrust legislation be able to stop them They already collude on raising seed prices.The Scientist and the Spy is broken down into thirty nine short chapters, which leads to readability but some fragmenting of the many strands of the Mo case However, this is a fascinating, well written and well researched book In the end it teaches usabout America its institutions and what big business can get away with than it does about China, this perhaps is a welcome surprise Finished Absolutely wild Super thought provoking Def hoping to continue to follow this story in the news thank you again to riverheadbooks for the free copy I ll be thinking about this one for awhile

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