National Security

China Recruited Scientists Who Worked At Top US National Security Lab, Report Says

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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China paid scientists up to $1 million to leave their work on sensitive weapons technologies at the U.S.’ top nuclear lab and develop weapons for China, according to an intelligence report published Wednesday.

The report from Strider Technologies details Beijing’s campaign to embed 162 Chinese scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratories, where the U.S. first developed nuclear weapons, in sensitive U.S.-funded research over the last three decades. At least 13 of the scientists later returned to China through the subversive “talent programs” to advance Chinese research in deep-earth-penetrating warhead, hypersonic missile, quiet submarine and drone technologies, according to the report.

The talent programs present a “direct threat to U.S. national security,” Greg Levesque, a co-founder of Strider and the lead author of the report, told CBS News. “China is playing a game that we are not prepared for, and we need to really begin to mobilize.” (RELATED: US Officials Approved 94% Of Tech Exports To China In 2020)

At least one of the Chinese scientists held a “Q Clearance,” providing access to top-secret information related to U.S. national security, according to the report.

“Our national security and defense require fierce protection of critical technology development,” a spokesperson from the Department of Energy told the Daily Caller News Foundation, adding that the agency is committed to safeguarding the private research that “underwrites the United States’ technology leadership.”

The report did not identify or make allegations of illegal activity by Los Alamos or any individuals named. However, a former Los Alamos employee pleaded guilty in 2020 to misrepresenting his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Program.

The Justice Department described the program as “an initiative by the Chinese government to recruit people with access to and knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property.” Often, China takes advantage of privileged access to U.S. research through the talent programs, stealing formulas, processes and other innovations for Chinese labs, according to a 2019 bipartisan Senate report.

The number of Chinese students, researchers and scientists who return to China has increased dramatically over the past decade, the Senate report stated.

China’s recruitment programs reflect “ambitions of the PRC’s talent strategy and its exploitation of Western commitments to global scientific collaboration,” the report from Strider added.

In July, FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a rare joint statement with the U.K.’s intelligence chief, where they described the People’s Republic of China as the two countries’ most significant national security challenge. They warned of escalating Chinese attempts over the past decade to steal data and technology from U.K. and U.S. innovators and disrupt the nations’ economies.

U.S. officials told CBS News they had not yet seen a public, unclassified report describing the “talent programs” in such detail.

The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. and Los Alamos Labs did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

This story has been updated with comment from the Department of Energy.

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