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Jan. 30, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Indicted Chinese researcher hid military links
A female Chinese military officer was charged with spying while posing as a student at Boston University, but was able to flee the country after FBI agents interviewed her about her links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

PLA Lt. Ye Yanqing was indicted in a separate criminal case involving Dr. Charles Lieber, chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with lying about receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the Wuhan University of Technology and lying to the Pentagon about the foreign money.

The involvement of Lt. Ye and two other senior PLA officers highlights the Chinese military’s involvement in Beijing’s large-scale program of recruiting foreign specialists.

A third Chinese national who was arrested last month, Zheng Zhaosong, was indicted for attempting to smuggle biological research samples while working as a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Lt. Ye falsely stated in visa documents that she was a student and did not disclose her active-duty PLA position, according to court papers. She was charged with acting as a foreign government agent, visa fraud, making false statements to investigators and conspiracy.

Investigators say Lt. Ye was under control of “senior leaders of the PLA while conducting research at Boston University pursuant to a J-1 non-immigrant visa.” Those leaders include one colonel and a second lower-ranking officer who were professors at China’s National University of Defense Technology in Harbin, China.

Lt. Ye was tasked by the PLA to gather intelligence on U.S. military websites and send documents and information back to China. The indictment said Lt. Ye also lied on her visa application when she denied engaging in espionage, sabotage and export control violations in the United States.

FBI and Customs and Border Protection agents questioned Lt. Ye on April 20, 2019, at Boston’s Logan International Airport, and the indictment charged that she lied about having links with PLA officers at the university. However, she admitted to being a PLA officer and member of the Communist Party of China.

A search of her electronic devices revealed extensive spying and contacts, including through the messaging service WeChat.

Investigators discovered that she had supplied the PLA with information on two U.S. experts in robotics and computer science.

Lt. Ye worked on one project that “focused on a risk-assessment model designed to assist the PLA in deciphering data for military applications,” the indictment says.

The interview apparently tipped off Lt. Ye that she was under investigation and ended her work at Boston University’s Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering, where she worked from October 2017 until last April. The Justice Department said Tuesday in announcing the case that Lt. Ye was “currently in China.”

The arrests and indictments are the latest in a series of Justice Department actions against Chinese high-tech spying and technology theft, estimated by the White House to involve transfers of information worth between $250 billion and $600 billion annually.

Earlier this month, a University of Kansas professor, Tao Feng, was indicted for secretly working for a Chinese university while working on projects funded by the Energy Department and National Science Foundation. In September, the FBI arrested a Chinese official in New Jersey, Liu Zhongsan, on visa fraud charges as part of a covert program to recruit American experts in high-technology research fields.

Nick Eftimiades, a former U.S. counterintelligence official, said the recent cases highlight Beijing’s effort to obtain U.S. research paid for by the federal government and use it to build China’s scientific capabilities.

“The primary issues of concern are China using U.S. research paid for by the federal government and using it to build its own research capabilities in an area (nanoscience) that has thousands of military applications,” Mr. Eftimiades said of the Lieber case.

House passes legislation on Tibet
The House on Tuesday approved new sanctions on Chinese officials for attempting to appoint the successor to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. The officially atheist government in Beijing has claimed the right to appoint the next Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama is 84.

The statements by Beijing prompted opposition from Tibetan Buddhists and others who say any leader picked by the Chinese government would not be recognized.

The bipartisan Tibetan Policy and Support Act passed by a wide margin.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in floor debate that “the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) crusade against faith is the greatest threat to religious freedom in the world today.”

“We will not accept fraudulent religious leaders appointed by Beijing, and we will not accept the CCP’s control of deeply spiritual beliefs,” Mr. McCaul said.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump, the bill would make it official U.S. policy that only the current Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhist community can decide on his successor. Any interference by China in the succession was be regarded under the law as a human rights abuse and severe violation of religious freedom.

Any Chinese official found complicit in efforts to install a government-approved candidate for the future Dalai Lama would be subject to sanctions, including the freeze on assets and denial of entry into the U.S.

The legislation also blocks China from opening a new consulate in the United States until a U.S. consulate can be opened in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.

The measure also would help fund humanitarian projects for Tibetans living in Tibet and in exile and commend the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile for adopting a democratic system of governance.

Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, praised the House vote.

The legislation sends “another clear message to Beijing that U.S. support for Tibet is getting stronger and more institutionalized and will not waver despite China’s bullying tactics,” he said in a statement.

Last year, Mr. Trump signed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act that calls for unrestricted and reciprocal access to Tibet for U.S. journalists, diplomats and citizens.

“This reflects the widespread support that the American people have for the people of Tibet,” Mr. Mecacci said.

Apple getting into 5G
Apple CEO Tim Cook said this week the company is already pursuing products in the field of next-generation telecommunications technology known as 5G.

President Trump met Mr. Cook in November at an Apple supplier in Austin that produces Mac Pro computers.

The president urged Mr. Cook to take Apple, the largest company in the country, into the 5G telecommunications business as a way to prevent efforts by China and Huawei Technologies to dominate the global market on the emerging high-speed 5G technology.

During a telephone call with reporters on Apple’s $91 billion first-quarter earnings this week, Mr. Cook was asked about Apple selling a 5G iPhone.

Mr. Cook replied that Apple is in the early stages of 5G work, but that he is excited about the prospect.

“We don’t comment on future products, so I try to sidestep a bit,” he said. “With respect to 5G, I think we’re in the early innings of deployment on a global basis. We obviously couldn’t be prouder of our lineup and are very excited about our pipeline as well, and wouldn’t trade our position for anybody.”

Mr. Cook noted that “generally I think what’s important when you think about 5G is to look around the world at the different deployment schedules.”

“And some of those look very different, perhaps, than what you might be seeing here,” he said. “In terms of the price, I wouldn’t want to comment on the price of handsets that aren’t announced.”

Industry analysts predict the next iPhone 12 will be sold 5G-ready.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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