Foreign Spies Target U.S. Universities as FBI Seeks Campus Help

By Dan Golden - 2012-04-05T17:58:07Z

Photograph by Derek Winchester/Getty Images

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Harkening back to the Cold War, a resurgence of spying on U.S. universities is alarming national security officials. As universities become more global in their locations and student populations, their culture of openness and international collaboration makes them increasingly vulnerable to theft of research conducted for government and industry. Recent federal reports cite increases in foreign countries seeking sensitive research through such tactics as offering to study with American professors, downloading files from the laptops of U.S. researchers attending international conferences and using "front" companies to license technology developed in academic laboratories.

Foreigners on temporary visas make up more than 40 percent of graduate students in science and engineering at leading universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. China sent 76,830 graduate students to U.S. universities in 2010-11, more than any other country and up almost 16 percent from the prior year. While the vast majority of international students, researchers and professors come to the U.S. for legitimate reasons, a small number -- voluntarily or under pressure -- may be supplying information to intelligence services. In addition, more Americans are heading overseas for schooling, becoming potential targets for recruitment by foreign governments.