Law enforcement officials identified a foreign national in the United States on a student visa who attempted to leave the country while carrying sensitive military intelligence, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
During the week of June 12, the individual tried to leave the United States with photographs and data from a defense-related research laboratory, according to the confidential document. There was no mention of whether the suspected spy was arrested or is being held in detention, but law enforcement is sure of one thing: The person was in the United States on a Student and Exchange Visitor Program visa.
The identification of the foreign national is part of a broad effort by federal law enforcement and intelligence officials to focus on Chinese students and researchers brazenly stealing classified information from universities and labs partnered with the American military. Reports on such activity are regularly circulated throughout the federal government, including in President Biden's National Security Council.
The intelligence community has revamped efforts to scrutinize the travels of Chinese nationals with student and research visas, including many who changed their travel itineraries as the coronavirus spread in China. Nearly 400 individuals have been identified by the intelligence community for suspicious travel plans, which were modified just before then-president Trump instituted his travel ban on Jan. 31, 2020.
Thousands of Chinese nationals have been flagged by federal officials as potential spies in just the last year. On June 14, 2020, the Free Beacon reported that at least 54 National Institutes of Health grant recipients were fired for not disclosing their ties to foreign governments, including China. According to the Department of Justice, roughly 80 percent of all economic espionage cases revolve around criminality related to China. Chinese nationals or individuals with ties to China are the subject of about 60 percent of all trade secret theft prosecutions.
In 2018, the Department of Justice launched its China Initiative, which prioritizes the "countering [of] Chinese national security threats." A major focus of the federal strategy is developing "an enforcement strategy concerning non-traditional collectors (e.g., researchers in labs, universities and the defense industrial base) that are being coopted into transferring technology contrary to U.S. interests."
The Biden administration did not return a request for comment.