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Top US Nuclear Lab Scientists Recruited by China to Design Missiles and Drones, Report Says

At least 154 Chinese scientists who have worked on government-sponsored research at major U.S. national security labs over the past two decades have been recruited to conduct scientific research in China. A new private intelligence report obtained by NBC News.

A Strider Technologies report describes what it calls a coordinated effort by the Chinese government to place Chinese scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where nuclear weapons were first developed.

Many of the scientists were later lured back to China to help advance technologies such as deep-penetrating warheads, hypersonic missiles, silent submarines and drones, the report said.

Scientists have been rewarded as much as $1 million for participating in the Chinese government’s Talent Development Program. Such talent programs have long been recognized as a source of concern, but US officials have described the phenomenon in such detail, naming specific scientists and the projects they worked on, classified as confidential. He said he had never seen a report that was not treated.

Greg Levesque, co-founder of Strider and lead author of the report, said the talent transfer “poses a direct threat to U.S. national security.” “China is playing a game they are not ready for and really needs to start mobilizing.”

A former Los Alamos scientist pleaded guilty to lying about his involvement in China’s recruitment program in 2020, but most of the conduct described in the report appears to have been lawful. Additionally, U.S. officials and experts say most Chinese scientists who emigrated to the United States remained here, and many made significant contributions to U.S. defense technology.

However, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, the Strider report suggests that the Chinese government is using recruitment programs to gain insight into U.S. technology and military forces that pose a grave threat to U.S. national security. China’s tough stance under President Xi Jinping is causing a reassessment of the long history of scientific exchanges between the two countries, the official added.

“We are benefiting enormously from the influx of Chinese talent,” said Robert Daley, a China expert at the Wilson Center, a congressional nonpartisan research institute. “And I hope we can continue to do that — it is essential for the United States. , which means we have to go back to the drawing board in some of these areas.”

In 2019, a bipartisan Senate report said an arrangement similar to China’s Thousand Talents Plan was a vector for China to tap into U.S. research.

“Through recruitment programs like Thousand Talents, China pays American university scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China. It includes research that has been donated,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a 2020 speech. Frankly, this means that American taxpayers are effectively paying for China’s own technological development. ”

Where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II, Los Alamos is dedicated to the science and engineering that supports the national security of the United States. However, much of the research there is unclassified and many foreign scientists work in the lab.

Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New MexicoLos Alamos National Laboratory via AP file

Officials in Los Alamos referred the question to the Department of Energy, but the Department declined to comment on the report’s specific findings.

In a statement to NBC News, the Department of Energy said that the United States’ “national security and defense require strong protections for critical technological developments while safeguarding the open scientific research that underpins America’s technological leadership.” Is required.

“In response to growing research security threats, the Department of Energy has taken significant steps in recent years, including the adoption of rigorous scrutiny, counterintelligence investigations, and restrictions on participation in foreign talent programs,” the agency added. rice field. “The Department of Energy also implements procedures to ensure compliance with U.S. export licensing requirements, including those governing the release of controlled technology to U.S. foreign nationals.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2019, the Department of Energy adopted rules barring employees and contractors from participating in talent programs related to China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, Strider reports. The rule appears to have reduced brain drain, the report said.

In 2018, the Justice Department launched what it called the China Initiative in an effort to stop China from stealing cutting-edge research. A string of incidents broke out amid allegations of racial profiling, and the Justice Department abandoned the initiative last year. It states that the threat of legal acquisition of property continues.

Bill Evanina, who worked as a senior U.S. government counterintelligence officer from 2014 to 2021, said he had seen many confidential reports over the years documenting the problem of technology transfer through poaching of talent. .

But he said, “This is the first time we have a comprehensive open-source report that identifies the people, places, services and organizations in China that have benefited from the talent that once worked in national laboratories. ”

Evanina and other officials said Los Alamos is by no means an outlier — China is recruiting scientists at other national laboratories and major research centers across the U.S.

Citing public information posted on US and Chinese websites, the report contains specific information about a number of scientists.

For example, according to reports, Zhao Yusheng received nearly $20 million in grants from U.S. taxpayers during his 18-year career at Los Alamos. There he held his Q clearance in top secret and headed up a defense project to develop a bomb that could penetrate deep underground.

Then, in 2016, Zhao left the US to join a talent program Strider found and work at a research center in China. Reports say that before that, while he was in Los Alamos, he hired another Chinese scientist to work with him on bomb research. The scientist said he applied for a patent for an “ultra-thick penetrating warhead” in China in 2007, according to the report.

Zhao is currently Vice President of the Southern China University of Science and Technology (known as SUStech) for Defense Studies. did not respond to a request for comment.

A Strider report found 15 Los Alamos veterans working at SUStech, including president Chen Shiyi, who made significant contributions to China’s hypersonic missile program. Chen did not respond to emails.

“No one can say this is not a national security issue,” Evanina said. “From hypersonics to sonic capabilities to warheads, we are committing the ability of our adversaries to use their weapons against us.