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Spies Target US Colleges, Universities

Spies on Campus: The Threat of Espionage in Academia
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Many think of spying as something that happens at foreign embassies and similar locations, but it may be happening much closer to home, perhaps right under your nose.

Spies Target US Colleges and Universities
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Colleges and universities are not the first places most people would think to find government spies. But reporter Dan Golden said that is not the case.

“There’s an awful lot more international students, international professors at American universities. Some of them are here to gather information for their countries."

Golden recently spoke with VOA about his book “Spy Schools.” In the book, he gives examples of spying at U.S. colleges and universities. He says the free exchange of ideas and mix of cultures at universities increase the chances for spying to take place.

Charlie McGonigal leads the counterintelligence division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York. He said spying at universities is a big problem.

“There’s a lot of research and development at major universities in the United States that a foreign government would look to exploit by sending students to study at these universities.”

Americans studying in other countries can also become targets of foreign governments. McGonigal says often these students are asked to seek jobs in the U.S. government.

“...Then they’re asked to go and apply for employment with the U.S. government or in a sensitive private sector area where we know those governments are targeting that type of specific information.”

But the United States also uses intelligence-gathering operations in universities. Alex van Schaick was a student in Bolivia researching organized labor movements. He met a U.S. government official in Bolivia for what he thought was a usual security meeting.

But Van Schaick grew concerned by the official’s request.

“He said, ‘Oh, and if you’re out doing field work out in the countryside, if you run into any Cuban doctors or Venezuelan officials, we’d like you to report their whereabouts back to the U.S. embassy.’”

McGonigal says that these kinds of recruitment efforts are not common. He adds that the U.S. does not use these methods as often or in the same ways as the Chinese or Russian governments.

Dan Golden says raising awareness about the high incidence of spying is important. He notes the 2010 discovery of Russian spies who pretended to be Americans.

“The vast majority of them were going to American colleges and universities, or had gone to them.”

Golden added that he believed that Russia considered it important for spies to have an American college degree.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Tina Trinh reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

exploit – v. to use someone or something in a way that helps you unfairly

sector –n. an area of an economy or group of industries

specific –adj. relating to something particular or special

recruitment –n. the process of getting someone to join a group, organizations or business

pretend – v. to imagine and act out a particular role, situation, etc.

vast – adj. very great in size, amount, or extent