Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
FBI Says Chinese Operatives Active at Scores of U.S. Universities (mcclatchydc.com)
180 points by meri_dian on Feb 14, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 179 comments

Reminds me of this story from last year:

But those [Chinese] students often bring to campus something else from home: the watchful eyes and occasionally heavy hand of the Chinese government, manifested through its ties to many of the 150-odd chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations.

The groups have worked in tandem with Beijing to promote a pro-Chinese agenda and tamp down anti-Chinese speech on Western campuses. At Columbia a decade ago, the club mobilized students to protest a presentation about human rights violations in China, urging them to “resolutely defend the honor and dignity of the Motherland.” At Duke, the group was accused of inciting a harassment campaign in 2008 against a Chinese student who tried to mediate between sides in a Tibet protest. More recently in Durham, England, the group acted at the behest of the Chinese government to censor comments at a forum on China-Hong Kong relations.


Also reminds me of this recent news, of Mercedes Benz made to apologize to China for posting a quote (in English) by the Dalai Lama on Instagram, a platform banned in China:


EDIT: damn, downvotes are coming fast for this one. I wonder why :^)

I'm torn.

On the one hand, I do think people should be aware of it. On the other hand, I don't see the fuss. What you describe is the norm for many groups - not just the Chinese.

>At Columbia a decade ago, the club mobilized students to protest a presentation about human rights violations in China, urging them to “resolutely defend the honor and dignity of the Motherland.”

This is normal for many groups and many issues. On my campus, any issue involving the Palestinians or Israelis would have lots of groups protesting and putting a fair amount of pressure to get the university to intercede and cancel the speaker. There was once suspicion that the Turkish government was trying to influence the views on their conflict with the Kurds. Many/most Turkish students in my time were on government scholarships, and I do know for a fact that they did ask students to spy on one another - and risk losing funding for their education if they did not get in line. For many international student organizations, it was considered normal to request for funding from their embassy to host events promoting their culture (including informational materials, videos, etc).

So yes, the Chinese are doing it, just as everyone else is. This is not even considered controversial on campuses. Religious groups do likewise. As do political groups. What's so special about the Chinese?

The article does a fairly poor job of describing of giving details/examples. What have these groups done that makes them stand out compared to the norm?

You make a reasonable point.

That said, all the countries you mention have strong track records of human rights violations. So really China's not surrounded by good company on that issue, and maybe the takeaway should be more that we should be cautious regarding these countries and how they might try to influence discourse on US campuses rather than saying "well a bunch of corrupt governments are all doing it, what's the big deal?".

As far as "what's so special about China"- the sheer volume of its population (and thus of its population studying abroad) as well as the fact that it is (or is close to being, depending on how you want to draw your lines) the world's leading economy are good starting points.

I'm French, went to grad school in the US, and did not see any of my countrymen protest on campus because the history department was teaching about the war of Algeria and they weren't happy about it (nor did I see Catalonian students protest that the geography department treated Spain as a single country... you get the point).

>and maybe the takeaway should be more that we should be cautious regarding these countries and how they might try to influence discourse on US campuses

Which I agree with, which is why I said I do think people should be aware of it. But beyond merely being aware of it, I'm not sure there's much else to do. When you say "we should be cautious", what do you mean? How can we be any more cautious?

Ultimately, the situation exists because the US has strong laws on free speech and freedom. It should be a given that various groups will exploit these laws. If they are using students for propaganda purposes, the only useful response I can think of is likely counter-propaganda. Personally, I am wary of just saying "Beware of Chinese propaganda". I've seen that tactic used in various times in my life and the result has always been the equivalent of "Let's not trust what this person is saying because he is Chinese and we should beware of the Chinese" (i.e. many people heed the warnings and then blanket distrust the whole group of people).

Which is why I complained about the article: It's mostly "Beware of the Chinese on campuses" and not "Look at all these (specific) problems that have arisen because of the Chinese on campuses".

>EDIT: damn, downvotes are coming fast for this one. I wonder why :^)

The China Internet Defense Force strikes again. My impression is that the PRC doesn't even have to pay for shills (as opposed to the ROC) as nationalistic fervor is strong enough among the general population for this sort of activity to occur organically but I could be wrong about either or both.

Are you speaking of the 50 Cent Army? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50_Cent_Party

No I'm talking about impassioned nationalistic defenses of China on western social media platforms, not Chinese ones. Even if they are much more critical internally, on issues like Tibet which are seen as hypocritical attempts by western forces to impugn their national sovereignty, my impression is that most of the actions by Chinese internet commentators are undirected.

Again, I could be wrong about this as I am not an expert in internet shills but only a casual observer of them.

It's a type of pride that I can barely remember having. I think as westerners we don't feel a threat to our country's reputation when outsiders are criticizing it, we trust that our country is perceived to be generally good no matter what.

I was reminded of the same article. My first thought was that this is blown a bit out of proportion. While the Confucius Institutes are definitely working for a foreign intelligence service, my impression was that their main function was to eliminate free speech by Chinese students abroad. I believe they also apply pressure to suppress criticism of the regime's policies by Americans. I suspect industrial espionage is a distant third. Surely the Chinese government is pursuing industrial espionage means that are both more effective and less obvious? I'm much more troubled by the suppression of dissent.

During my undergrad university days (at the University of Utah), I took some Mandarin classes. There was a local Confucius Institute which provided various free materials in Chinese to the campus library. The extent of my direct contact with them was receiving a couple hundred dollars for doing well in a Mandarin speech contest they held for my class.

It was obvious that there was a certain propaganda aspect to this outreach effort; the reading materials provided of course didn't go into any potential negatives of the Beijing government, etc. Very much in line with the CCTV news network. My Mandarin teacher was Taiwanese and so I think that was good for me in that I wasn't getting all my exposure to Chinese from a single source.

I would not be surprised at all to learn that Chinese government operatives were using these various state-funded educational agencies for gaining intelligence and promoting their ideology. I assume the US is doing the same thing. It's a long game, with assets being put into place sometimes decades in advance. A healthy dose of cynicism is always important when dealing with state-funded groups; it's rare that countries invest such resources just out of the goodness of their altruistic hearts.

Why would you expect the Confucius Institute to provide information on the negatives of Chinese government? It's a Chinese culture organization, and it's directly affiliated with the government of China.

Voice of America, and other media provided by the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau provide a balanced perspective on the U.S. If there are anti-government situations going on, they cover it. Just take a look at the headlines about Trump on voanews.com vs. the headlines about Xi on xinhuanet.com.

    > GOP Women Frustrated by Trump's Approach to Abuse Charges
    > 2018 Congressional Elections Loom as Referendum on Trump
    > House Panel Launches Probe into Trump Aide's Employment Amid Domestic Abuse Allegations
Oh, wow, point taken.

I always forget about VOA because the government doesn't promote it inside the United States. BBC and even NHK have a much higher profile than Voice of America does in America.

I always forget about VOA because the government doesn't promote it inside the United States.

Openness and fairness are also political weapons. You know your side has lost, if it reaches a state of "evaporative cooling" such that it's incapable of using such weapons.


VOA isn't a complete shill for the Executive, but it's still a propaganda arm of the US Government.

I guess that's a valid point, but it's worth asking whether transparency is really a core value of Chinese political culture, the way it ostensibly is to ours. That doesn't make Chinese culture necessarily better or worse, ceteris paribus, but it would definitely influence the kinds of things a government-sponsored cultural agency would demonstrate.

I think my point is just: we might be asking for a lot from something as straightforward as a Chinese cultural agency.

Other, similar organizations from other countries often at least try to maintain the illusion of some degree of objectivity. If you take advanced French classes at the French Institute, there is a good chance that contemporary issues affecting France will be discussed in class.

Indeed, when I took German at the Goethe-Institut there was a fair amount of class-time reference to social problems in Germany (although perhaps with an optimistic spin, something like "Germany is great because Germans acknowledge important social problems and work to solve them¹"). I haven't experienced the Confucius Institute for comparison.

¹ It seemed like nearly every course had a dialogue on the theme "Was machen Sie für die Umwelt?" ('What do you do for the environment?').

I don't think he presumed it would? The subtext (as I read it) is that his émigré Taiwanese instructor was prejudiced against the mainland government to the point of rarely mentioning any positives. The balance provided by the Confucius Institute was in providing the pro-government viewpoint, not more of the negative. Or am I misreading your question?

I didn't get the impression DanAndersen expected them to; he wrote "of course"...

> the reading materials provided of course didn't go into any potential negatives of the Beijing government

Most of the UofU Chinese teachers are Taiwanese, and they aren’t funded though the Confucius institute (rather, there is a deep connection between the LDS church and Taiwan, which allows missionaries). I had one chinese teacher at Utah who was really against the Mainland government (and mainlanders in general), I don’t think his contract was renewed but he was a really funny guy and a decent teacher (had a blonde wife, seven boys, only in Utah).

All countries have some kind of educational projects like this. The German, for example, have the Goethe Institute that is active around the world. It seems now that the US now wants to criminalize this kind of diplomatic activity just because it is coming from a commercial competitor.

I don't think it's at all fair to compare the Confucius Institute to the Goethe Institut. The Federal Republic of Germany has been free of totalitarianism for over 70 years.

And to be honest, capitalism doesn't always need directly paid operatives. People whose livelihood depends on low taxes, less regulation, free trade, etc, will glady fund think-tanks, politicians, and media that espouse these values, not to mention, making TV appearances and op-eds themselves. It has the same effect of government funded propaganda, in my opinion.

I do agree it is a little more nefarious to have a foreign government fund these efforts, but how different is it from wealthy business owners funding think-tanks and academics who align with them politically? It's probably not as nefarious but it's just a matter of degree.

Criminalize? Where did you get that from?

Yes, lots of countries do that. UK has British Council.

I think the Confucius Institute is fairly open about promoting Chinese culture and they're not going to bite the hand feeding them.

It's an example of China gathering soft power, similar to how the Peace Corps does good things with the backing of the US government.

Are you sure you aren't being a little overly paranoid about these materials?

Not saying that there isn't necessarily any attempt at propaganda there, but it sounds like you're just saying that these resources didn't directly criticize the CCP. Seems to me like it would be a bigger deal if learning materials did start going into the negatives of a ruling government. It would be a little odd if French materials for learning English included a denunciation of the actions of the British Empire or the Bush Administration for example (even if the denunciation was deserved).

What kind of negative things would you expect a more even-handed textbook for learning Chinese to go into?

Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with projects like the Confucius Institute, both by foreign governments as well as my own, but it certainly behooves the participants to consider the motivations of the people behind it.

Australia has of late had its own issues involving accusations of Chinese espionage as well as good old-fashioned palm-greasing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Dastyari#Chinese_influence...

If the US starts clamping down on this sort of thing, expect China to accuse the US government of xenophobia, since of course "we'd like to stop so many Chinese agents and toadies from infiltrating our governmental and educational systems" translates to "we hate Chinese people" in Mandarin.

EDIT: To be clear to any Chinese agents reading this, my issue is not so much with the spying and soft power campaigns so much as it is the unfair accusations of racism.

Can you imagine if Russians were a another "race". They'd be able to throw the racism card all over dems for having the temerity to accuse them of all sorts of political interference and other meddling...

Alas, they cannot make such accusations. At most they can use "xenophobia".

> Can you imagine if Russians were a another "race". They'd be able to throw the racism card all over dems for having the temerity to accuse them of all sorts of political interference and other meddling...

I assume this is why everyone turns a blind eye to the elephant in the room when it comes to foreign influence of American affairs - Israel.

That one's a bit more complicated. Our interests intersect with theirs along many axes. And they have lots of lobbyists in DC and Americans of Israeli/Jewish heritage donate lots to DC politicians along Israeli policy lines. People of Russian heritage on the other hand typically have opposing views to that of Moscow in many areas, so they are not as aligned, if at all; in addition, many people of Russians descent have Jewish heritage as well... So you know, they doubly oppose Moscow.

this is a typical narrative of double standard.

> Can you imagine if Russians were a another "race".

> Alas, they cannot make such accusations.

Why not? Can you prove that Russians are "another race"?

Is there such thing as a scientific definition that states unambiguously where any one race ends and another begins? I don't doubt that populations of humans commonly share family lineage, phenotypes, and genotypes, but the concept of "race" escapes any sufficient definition or real world testability.

US state laws and culture had for a long time considered the "one-drop"[1] (of blood of a different race) a disqualifier for being considered a White American. The implication is that if you can't prove your pedigree back infinitely far, you are more likely that not to not be white.

In fact, using some inductive logic, it's almost perfectly likely that every person is "mixed-race" if you search back far enough.

This is all to say that "racism" is a description of how people see (and treat) other people. It's rarely been about actual pedigrees and almost entirely been about mental classification of others.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule

>Is there such thing as a scientific definition that states unambiguously where any one race ends and another begins"

No, that's why it's in scare quotes.

Fair point.

I think DJT has already desensitized me to details like capitalization and quoting.

I've seen people reach pretty hard to blame various things on Trump, but blaming him for your own lack of reading comprehension is a new one.

>Can you imagine if Russians were a another "race".

I was under the impression they are,



They actually have a word for this, it's "Russophobia" [1]

And from reading left-leaning discussion forums (HN included) you'd think they have a point. Try mentioning anything about Russia and see how long it takes until someone suggests it's probably Putin's friends doing it (Telegram is a great recurring example here on HN [2]).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russophobia#United_States

[2] E.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16327159

Notice the downvotes?

I find the thought of Chinese people complaining that Americans are racist to be very amusing. Doubly so if I imagine the American so accused to be black with epicanthic folds.

Did you know that a commercial once aired in China for Qiaobi detergent, where a black man is shoved into a washing machine, and when the cycle finishes, he comes out Chinese? It aired for months, and didn't get pulled until an English-language website made it go viral internationally. The US will always have its 1970s Calgon "ancient Chinese secret" advertisement, of course.

Might as well link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Few8kJ0zfnY

I don't think it's intentionally racist as far as disparaging black people, but it does imply that black skin is "dirty" and wouldn't fly in, shall we say, less homogeneous cultures.

See also Darkie/Darlie toothpaste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlie

Persecution complex, projection, feigning incredulity... Hypocracy is SOP for bullies.

And we continue to tolerate those who wouldn't tolerate us...

Even the Chinese have a word for these people who naively defend and turn a blind eye to this sort of thing: "Baizou".

From Wikipedia:

"The word baizuo is, according to political scientist Zhang Chenchen, a Chinese word that ridicules Western "liberal elites". He further defined the word "baizuo" with the definition "People who only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment" and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.[7] The term has also been used to refer to perceived double standards of the Western media, such as the alleged bias on reporting about Islamist attacks in Xinjiang."


> And we continue to tolerate those who wouldn't tolerate us...

It's interesting that as an American, I can't tell if you are talking about the Chinese or the "liberal elite Americans" when you state this. That's a common talking point of the American right wing and could equally describe the position of any person who uses that Chinese term in seriousness.

Also, the hypocrisy of a Chinese word criticizing westerners for enforcing political correctness is humorous.

The Chinese left does not align with the American left. For one, unlike the American left who tone down patriotism, the Chinese left celebrates patriotism (as do the defacto right "Chinese" who are represented at least in spirit by Taiwan.). I mean, can you imagine the Chinese left celebrating with the Tibetan flag in the streets along with slogans implying China is racist and genocidal?

The hypocrisy of the Chinese having a word? Of westerners using a Chinese word?

That sounds a lot like it would come straight from right wing propaganda from the wording.

It does sound right-wing, but I think it's definitely possible to be left-wing and to want to avoid being a "baizuo". The biggest thing that caught my eye was about "pitying the rest of the world" and thinking that you are a "savior" -- definitely a valid criticism, I think.

The main thing is having a warped perspective.

It literally means "the white left" so yeah, pretty much.

Also not sure what this word has to do with FBI anti-intelligence efforts.

The right wing and the extreme left have remarkable similar attitudes toward the center–to–center-left.

(Leaving aside question of whether the Chinese “Communist” regime is on the left in any substantive sense, rather than merely as a historical rhetorical affectation.)

Sounds fake to me. Any actual Chinese to confirm this? Just going by the "they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”" comment; China is a communist country, its about as far on the spectrum left past welfare state as you can go.

You can reach a higher level of understanding if you stop trying to cram multi-dimensional politics into a one-dimensional spectrum.

China is State Capitalist, not Communist. The government doesn't tell people what jobs to do and provide them with their home, food, and consumer goods

Yes, and the standard Communist criticism of the idea of welfare states (which, IIRC, predates both the actual existence of welfare states and also that of Leninism, much less the present Chinese Communist regime) is that it is a bourgeois “reform” to capitalism that provides the illusion of serving the lord classes but only actually reinforced the power and position of the capitalist elites.

(This is structurally similar to the right-wing capitalist criticism of welfare states, which is basically the same but substitutes an amorphousus government elite in place of the capitalist one.)

China is ruled by a party with "Communist" in its name, that's the only connection with communists. Officially China runs "socialism with chinese characteristics", but as other comments have pointed out, in realistic it's more like state capitalism.

And to answer your question -- yes it's a real word, and is used on Internet a lot. Literally it means white ("bai") liberals ("zuo" -- left).

It's communist in name but it sounds to me closer to state capitalism in practice.

I’m so confused. The wikipedia article is basicly an exerpt from a chinese government english language propoganda tabloid. Who are they trying to infuence? The US right wing?

Isn't this well known fact? It isn't a secret that the chinese, along with the israelis, russians, british, french, japanese, koreans, canadians and even the saudis have operatives in academia, government, business, etc.

And of course we have operatives in all those countries as well.

Not to mention that "operative" has a specific meaning in the Intelligence Community. While the intent of this report appears to imply that operatives are under official control, they are mostly people who might be relied on to support or instigate a policy preference. Contrast with "agent," "handler," etc.

That includes then a lot of Chinese academics who are sympathetic to their country's ideology. A national being sympathetic to their country, imagine that.

Every country spies on every other country. But not every country steals foreign technology for its companies.

Yeah, only those who are capable.

And need to.


"Airbus wants answers from Germany over U.S. spying claim"

This isn't a new controversy, for what it's worth. For example:


One way to summarize: colleges accept Chinese-sponsored Confucius Institutes as a way of bolstering Chinese language programs, which are valuable in the marketplace. But if you let China fund your Chinese language programs, the instructors you end up with will to some extent suppress discussion of politically-sensitive topics. And, of course, college staff probably also see this as a labor dispute: colleges that accept CI-sponsorship are in a sense outsourcing the work of professors.

That would explain why my school's international students have such nice, James Bond-esk, cars.

Eh... I worked at a community college whose bread and butter was international students. Lots of them had really expensive cars. Not sure why China would send hundreds of operatives to infiltrate a community college and then pay to put them in flashy cars. It's more likely just rich parents.

Even the ones driving 15 year old Chryslers likely have wealthy parents. University is absurdly expensive for international students of no particular note. On the order of $100k/yr in tuition for a no-name state school.

What's another $50k when you're spending half a million dollars to educate your kid?

What no-name state school cost $100k/yr for international students?

It is absurdly more expensive for int'l students but not $100k/yr.

For example UC Berkeley costs $45k/year for international students [1].

[1] https://internationaloffice.berkeley.edu/students/current/ex...

In your same link the undergrad living expenses is $64k/yr.

I don't think that's an accurate representation of what the estimates are at the link. In particular, the linked page lists undergraduate tuition and fees at $45014/academic year, living expenses at $2100/month (x9 months, leading to $18900/academic year) totaling to $63914 combined tuition+fees+estimated living expenses.

So? That's not $100k/yr. Plus poster said tuition, not total living expenses. And that's just an estimate, one can live more frugally if required.

live off campus?

The other reply has clarified that state schools don't cost that much. But just to add on, a lot of international students are merely upper-middle class in their own countries (i.e. family has 1 non-luxury car, lives in a 2 bedroom apartment, takes 1 international vacation every 3-5 years). They take out student loans just like American students and count on paid internships and post-completion Optional Practical Training jobs to pay off those loans. While they're studying they tend to live very frugally - no cars, very little eating out or partying, sharing rooms etc.

Universities can be expensive, but community colleges typically aren’t. Most of the fuerdai in community colleges are probably studying English to get into a university. Even though they are rich, they won’t turn down a good deal when they can get one (and since luxury cars are so much cheaper in the USA than China, they are considered good deals as well).

One of the services my company in Shanghai provides is review and final edit of applications, sometimes as a second check against what domestic (read non-native speaker) agencies have created. CC is seen as a stepping stone to 4 year degree schools. Usually it is rich kids who had no chance or inclination to pass the Chinese university entrance exam. Also many are told by the said agencies, it is the fast track to US citizenship. Most parents want a foothold in other countries as backup plan to get capital and themselves out of the PRC over time.

Community colleges are significantly more expensive for international students; at the local ones nearby you're looking at paying 4-5x more.

Sure, but the base is low.

It's on the order of $10,000-15,000. That's just slightly under the price of a university education for in-state students.

a lot of this probably is "if you see something useful to the motherland, let us know." Or being approached when the state agencies decide you're useful. Not everyone is a card-carrying spy.

It's perfectly normal to have loyalties to your own (or original) country, US and China aren't exactly like USA and England, relationship wise. Most US citizens would probably do the same in China.

Add the fact that China has a lot more leverage than a "normal" country when it comes to blackmailing families /friends.

I think you missed the joke here

Yeah I want to add that at a lot of universities there isn’t much financial aid for international students. As a result only the richest families can afford to send their children here.

Those cars are more expensive to purchase in China/Saudi Arabia/Qatar/etc then they are to purchase in the USA/Canada/etc and import later. Additionally, exotic cars tend to hold value well and are easy to sell for liquid assets.

Thus, for wealthy international families sending a student to North America, this is a two-birds-one-stone situation. The child gets a nice way to get around and the parents get a discount on their nice car when they bring it back. The car even doubles as a reasonably stable way to stash cash abroad in a stable asset.

They can’t actually import them into china, it is ridiculously expensive to get a car last customs. My old boss tried to get his Hummer imported into china from the USA and could never even get it approved.

This might just be my bias, but I wouldn't necessarily call a high-performance luxury car being driven by an under-occupied 19-year old a "stable asset".

A "stable asset" is a last thing I'd call a new exotic car. They lose value super fast, as they are quintessential Veblen goods.

A more likely explanation is that if you can afford to send your child far overseas, pay for international tuition, housing, etc.; then you are likely able to afford a nice car for them to drive around in.

Honestly, is this news? Is it anything new that there are people roaming around university campuses that intend to make inroads into young, impressionable minds?

When I was at university, I remember there was an organization called "Horizons" which would show up to a number of social events and invite people to their building located near campus for free dinner. Of course, they were a Christian organization and were keen to sell their religion in this way.

I remember thinking it was a bit disingenuous but mostly just saw it as being silly. Students would go to get free dinner but seemed mostly capable of avoiding being indoctrinated. I think people such as those from the Confucius Institute should be regarded similarly. That is, they should not be seen as a real threat.

What concerns me is that giving attention to these things in the wrong way will only encourage people to develop a xenophobic attitude towards foreign students. I don't think there's legitimate cause for concern here. The overall culture and message of academia -- that one should investigate for one's self and see -- still seems intact and should be capable of standing up on its own, even if some seek to infiltrate it with their own agendas.

It's news because it's all allegations with no evidence. Tfa says there are several hundred thousand Chinese students in the US. Not a single one has been shown to be a Chinese operative.

Actually, I agree with you there.

Personally I think some Mandarin should become compulsory in the US because I think basic lack of communication is the greatest security risk. The biggest problem to me is the Chinese suppression of dissent and overcentralization. And since there are so many Chinese people it seems almost inevitable that these tendencies will encroach upon or at least rub off on the US.

I assume at this point most universities realize any work they feel should be closed is not so if they have Chinese students involved.

I wonder if it might be possible to start requiring study of decentralization and free speech topics as general requirements for graduation.

I got about six weeks of Mandarin in middle school. Not enough teachers are available to offer it in most high schools. If you wanted to really learn a second language before university, it was either French or Spanish. Like a chump, I chose French, because the teacher was reputed to give out less homework than the Spanish teacher. I've never even been to Quebec or Haiti. Quelle dommage; ce n'est pas trop utile pour moi. Tant pis. I can't even remember all the conjugations and tenses for etre.

You make Mandarin mandatory in the US, and you'll just end up with a bunch of people who wasted their time learning a language they will never use. And maybe some who will try using it at a Chinese-American restaurant only to learn that everyone there speaks Cantonese, or a lesser-used Chinese dialect.

True if it's not used it will be a waste. But the thing that worries me is the resource contention between the countries. So maybe we should have a preemptive "war on division" to try to integrate the cultures before our differences come to a violent head.

Actual 2010 census said 3.8M Chinese-Americans in the US, or 1.2% of the population. 2016 interim projection was 4.9M, or 1.5%. Granted, they are largely concentrated in California, Washington, New York, and Illinois. But it's still a significant population, and they can be found nearly everywhere [that is worth emigrating to]. A large fraction of students at US universities are Chinese nationals.

There are 100k Americans living in China (2/5 of them in Hong Kong), and a trace quantity of naturalized American-Chinese, because the only practical way for a white immigrant to gain Chinese citizenship is to marry a native. Applicants without obvious Asian ancestry aren't likely to ever get accepted, even if they do manage to get legally naturalized.

So which culture should be expending greater efforts?

True. My theory on that is that it is due to racism inherent in the culture. But hopefully it may not be quite as bad in the current generation. Anyway to improve that aspect of their culture to me it is a similar problem of trying to integrate the cultures -- we can't just force them to accept our ideas without an exchange or understanding theirs. Unless you believe in the traditional approach of war which to me is clearly a very stupid and self-destructive path.

My response, informed by the ~very realistic~ simulation called Civilization, would be to send in missionaries and spies, to promote my culture, and send in the diplomats to bribe them with the very technologies that made their wonders and city improvements obsolete.

If the federal government is so concerned about giving away R&D, they need to do something about all the companies that freely give it away when they offshore manufacturing to China and other countries. They've been doing it for decades; the horse is already out of the barn. Not only that, he left the barn 30 years ago, and has recently died of old age.

Wow, this seems like straight-up racist fearmongering. The Chinese have "infliltrated" our schools by attending and starting culturally oriented studies? What's wrong with setting up classes for studying Mandarin, the #1 most popular language on the planet?

There's no need to jump straight to racism here, given that this is coming from the director of the FBI.

The concern is that these groups report to the Chinese government, which would give the Chinese government the ability to control and suppress discussion of its policies abroad-- which is a bad thing.

presumably the language classes are not the activity they are worried about.


They don’t seem to be terribly clear on what they are worried about, if this article is to be taken at face value.

The closest thing to a legitimate concern they can manage to cough up is that China might be stealing American research — but if that’s the case, why aren’t we more worried about other countries (say, ones that have less in the way of their own research resources than China)?

Edit: thanks for adding the link about CI — but I thought that seemed like kind of a sidebar in the article. They sound more generally concerned about the very presence of Chinese students.

From Page 12 of the DNI's statement [0] in yesterday's hearing:

China, for example, has acquired proprietary technology and early-stage ideas through cyberenabled means. At the same time, some actors use largely legitimate, legal transfers and relationships to gain access to research fields, experts, and key enabling industrial processes that could, over time, erode America’s long-term competitive advantages

[0] https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/docu...

That could be said about any student who is a citizen of another country.

you must compare the level of assymetry in those relations.

> why aren’t we more worried about other countries

China is our geopolitical competitor. Other countries aren’t.

What if these were Russians and the title was "FBI Says Russian Operatives..." would you have said it's straight up racist fear-mongering?


Not technically "racist" but in my opinion much of the treatment of Russia in the media is highly prejudiced.

It's getting embarrassing at this point. It was a good PR campaign, but it has run its course by now it seems.


as somebody whose country has been a puppet state of moscow for 50-ish years, the media is nowhere close to having the full picture, but in the opposite direction.

tl;dr: please.

I wasn't just reacting to the title, but the body too. If the whole article was just s/China/Russia/g I would react the same way. On a geopolitical scale China is probably a bigger threat to the United States than Russia these days anyway.

Indeed, I'm frustrated in any of these situations where ambiguity seems purposeful. Is it "The Chinese" government? citizens? race? The article begins with Chinese government-sponsored operatives, which is OK, because at least it is a specific accusation that can be discussed. But then it immediately generalizes to list the number of Chinese nationals enrolled, perhaps to allude to the potential scale. (Your classmate or colleague could be a Chinese spy!) That to me seems a few steps away from "Well, I've read these reports about how the Chinese want to steal everything, so I'm going to pass on hiring this guy with the funny Asian name." or more extremely, "Well, we know that not that everyone is a bad guy, but for security, let's round them up into camps, just in case."

"Xenophobic" is probably a better word than "racist" in both cases, but yes, if it's about students it's fearmongering.

The OPM problem was not about students, and in one case it was about people physically located in China, unlike students who are visiting the US. If you're giving unrestricted access to a database of personal info on Americans to grad students, you have bigger problems regardless of their nationality. Find people where you have a documented history of them being trustworthy. And if necessary, require them to get clearance, that's what clearance is for.

(Edit: My comment is about the fear-mongering part, not the racist part).

>What if these were Russians and the title was "FBI Says Russian Operatives..." would you have said it's straight up racist fear-mongering?

Yes, I would call it fear mongering. What exactly have these operatives done? What can these operatives do?

International students are required to be registered full time, or they'll be in violation of their visa, and since 2001, universities are proactive in flagging these people down. They are only allowed to work 20 hours a week, and only on campus. Internships are allowed if part of their degree program. So it's not as if they are coming in and then running around doing heavy subversive stuff.

As foreign students, they do not have accessive to anything any other student has access to. If a professor is doing anything classified, they need to get clearance for their students, and likely are not allowed Chinese/Russian students at all.

In terms of their promoting their values/culture aggressively: Well join the club! They're doing exactly what every other group on campus is doing (many with support from their embassies).

But to get to the original statement: Yes, it is fear mongering because the article failed to indicate any kind of damage being caused that is beyond the norm for groups on campus. Industrial espionage? Show me some proof or examples. This is pretty much the same as saying "Beware! Commies on campus!" Or "Beware! Muslims on campus!" or "Beware! Abortionists on campus!"

You know spies generally don't fill in tax returns - though one Russian illegal in the UK ran a very successful one armed bandit / pinball company as part of his cover.

Failing to see the relevance of tax returns not being filled.

I'll ask my original question.

Have these "operatives" done anything that is not particularly unusual compared to other student groups? Until they have, this fits the very description of fear mongering.

You don't magically have access to anything just by entering the US.

Economic and other open source info is much easier to get at and also interesting research in universities. Spying on expat groups is another favorite.

What if they were israelis? China, russia, britain and israel run the largest espionage rings in the US. If the FBI called out israel, I bet the media would call it racist.

Probably the phrase “McCarthyism” would be used instead.

Yap, agree, that's more appropriate perhaps. This whole "everything I don't agree with is racist" and anyone I don't agree with is a "nazi" is very easy to take too far.

One one hand they have to be suspicious, because counterintelligence it's one of their duties. Especially after the OPM breach.

On the other hand, there is a danger of them going overboard. This is a great example of that:


They send an undercover informant to a mosque in Irvine, CA. Undercover informant instead of listening and observing, starts spewing radical crap and recruiting people. The mosque reports him to the FBI. That was an awkward Monday morning meeting I bet. Or maybe business as usual, who knows...

There is a long tradition, specially by the CIA, of creating their next enemy while fighting the current one.

I'm thinking, for instance, in the freedom fighters against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan, Noriega, weaponization of Iraq against Iran... we could keep going.

It states pretty clearly that there are Chinese operatives that are posing as students, professors, ect... Not that every student or professor is an operative.

I'm not sure I understand the argument of the article. Yes my graduate classes have many Chinese students in them, but why exactly is it bad that they are furthering their education and doing research in the US? The biggest issue I see is that many of them want to live and work in the US after graduation, but basically have to leave it up to luck in the visa lottery system.

The FBI is not warning about students, but about government agents posing ad students, I.E. "operatives".

Here, they have access to learn and potentially influence our culture from within. Most importantly, if the FBI is correct and they exist, they most likely do not have your interests in mind.

That said, I don't know how one would deal with this without causing McCarthy style hysteria and sweeping up innocent students along with operatives.

> The FBI is not warning about students, but about government agents posing ad students, I.E. "operatives".

What is the distinction here?

I do not generally expect international students on a student visa, with no intention of becoming citizens, to forget about the interests of their home country and prioritize the interests of the country they're visiting. They're here because the school is good, that's it.

You dont think that Chinese espionage does not potentially extend to our colleges? You dont think the U.S. is doing at least as much elsewhere? All this talk of collusion with Russia recently doesn't bother you either if it is true that a foreign power could have targeted our culture successfully to the point that they threw an election in their favor?

Such sentiment would be naive. Particularly in an authoritarian nation swarming with propaganda. There are plenty of children potentially willing to dedicate themselves to the interests of the party, whether for perceived virtue, or fear of retribution.

You dont think that Chinese espionage does not potentially extend to our colleges?

Well, no, I'm not sure what "espionage" would mean here? Does it mean stealing information? Doubtful. Unionizing graduate students? Hard to believe. Thwarting the education of others? Haven't seen it. While the Chinese may be placing people into positions at American universities with the idea that they might one day be useful, I'm not sure what would could as espionage. If anything I'd guess the "operatives" would mostly be keeping track of the activities of other Chinese students, and possibly serving as conduits for more covert operatives, but I'm doubtful they are doing anything that would legally qualify as espionage.

You dont think the U.S. is doing at least as much elsewhere?

You'd have to be clearer about what the "as much" is, but I'm doubtful the US is putting much effort into putting operatives into academic positions abroad. Probably they want to open channels of communication with people who are already there, but I'm doubtful we're doing anything particularly effective involving "fake" students. And again, what would the goal of this be?

All this talk of collusion with Russia recently doesn't bother you

Seems worth investigating, but no, nothing I've heard so far bothers me. There are lots of countries that have great interest in affecting/effecting US policies, and I'd presume that Russia would be one of them. I'm doubtful they were particularly effective in influencing an election, though, or even that they were the country with the greatest influence. This is the place where I assume the US is doing much more with regard to other country's elections, possibly with greater impact.

Particularly in an authoritarian nation swarming with propaganda.

I don't know your politics well enough to know if you mean China, Russia, or the US here? If you point is that there likely exist Chinese students who are willing to do what the Chinese government asks them in return for being allowed to study abroad, then sure. But I'd guess that most of what is being asked is "Learn everything they will teach you and then come home and build a better China", and I think that's a good thing?

If you had a long term plan to destabilize a nation, and wanted to understand how best to do it, don't you think it would be useful to send seemingly innocent students to gather intelligence in political hotbeds like universities?

After all, these students are future leaders. Understanding how to manipulate them or weaken them and their futures, or how to sow divisiveness amongst them or other Americans...

Wouldn't such information make it easier to at least, say, pose plausibly as influential "trolls" with relevant cultural content on the internet?

Just as in software, one doesn't necessarily need to anticipate a specific threat to recognize attack surface.

And as with software, sometimes part of the intended purpose of the software inherently exposes you to threats, and saying "Shut down the threat" means shutting down the software. The easiest way to prevent people from defacing Wikipedia is to make it not a wiki. The easiest way to keep your computer secure is to unplug it from the network.

Having foreign students attend our colleges is something that we have long recognized is good for our country and for the world. Obviously it's an attack surface too, in the same way that Wikipedia's "edit" button is an attack surface. But if we want to actually maintain the policies and goals that led us to deciding that we want foreign students to attend our colleges, we need to be clear about why these particular foreign students are different.

Yes to all of these, but this is just cherry picking the negatives. On the flip side, if you want to make positive changes, you also need the same knowledge. And if one believes that the Chinese students are brainwashed by their government, what better opportunity to teach them "the truth" than by hosting them in America for a few years?

Using the software analogy, it's like the observation that the only computer that's "safe" from internet hackers is one that not connected to the the internet (and ideally turned off). While (mostly) true, it's not a particularly useful observation unless one is willing to forgo all the positive aspects of connectivity.

one doesn't necessarily need to anticipate a specific threat to recognize attack surface.

I'd agree that it's worth identifying the vulnerability, but I think that to be useful the emphasis would need to be on the differential of the potential threat versus expected benefit. I guess I believe enough in the general positives of education that in the absence of specifics I'm willing to bet that educating Chinese students is a net gain for the world.

The talk of collusion with Russia centers on actual politicians actually bribed by Russia. If we can't distinguish between Russian oligarchs bribing politicians and Russian students attending colleges, and our culture is so fragile that the presence of foreigners engaged in political discussions can destabilize it, maybe we shouldn't allow any foreign students to enroll at all.

(Personally, the fact that foreign students can and do enroll in US universities is part of our culture.)

Who cares about the "interests of a country"? People care about themselves, family, friends, and charity cases.

They care about cultural values. If you've been raised your whole life to believe that every good thing in your life is because you live under your current political system, your self-interest and interest in your family will manifest as a desire to uphold that political system.

>Here, they have access to learn and potentially influence our culture from within.

You say that as if it is some nefarious goal, when it is almost always the goal for all international student groups: Promoting their culture. It's not a hidden agenda - it is usually explicit.

As others have pointed out, for all the warnings, the article doesn't point out anything particularly bad that these groups on campus do.

They're not talking about students from China, but rather Chinese intelligence agents posing as students, professors, researchers, etc.

What is the threat though? Aren't most university research programs very open and don't they publish everything they can get published? I understand the part about not wanting spies working for telecom companies (for example) because they could mess with our infrastructure. What's the issue with being inside a university?

It's been interesting observing that sentiment myself of Chinese friends that immigrate and integrate into the tech sectors of the US. Very much makes me think about the training data culled up to create the rogue chatbots that made the news last year: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/08/03/rogue-chatb...

Guess its a form of voting with your feet.

Huh? This article is talking about an FBI determination that China has installed operatives within US universities, not that all Chinese at US universities are operatives.

> Yes my graduate classes have many Chinese students in them

From the article:

> warned U.S. universities about Chinese intelligence operatives active on their campuses

That being said, the Chinese do have a term called: shan zhai which deals with copyrighting/conferfiting. While I'm not endorcing it, it does have some cultural roots.

The strange parts guy explained it some in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdKV6x13cz8


"Historically, "shanzhai" is sometimes used as a metaphor to describe bandits who oppose and evade the corrupted authority to perform deeds they see as justified."

Seems to be a bit like the Robin Hood mythos in western culture.

Duh. Ask Chinese grad student about it. They know who the active communist party members are and who they don't speak their mind in front of about affairs back home.

350,000 students and god know how many employees. FBI apparently has around 35,000 employees. I know not all the students are spies, and not all suspicious ones get their own team of agents rights away, but looks like using a Patriot Missile to kill a $150 drone. Time and time again.

The FBI never changes, does it? I’m not even saying that they’re wrong, but stating it this way is just fodder for bin fires. It would be strange if China and others didn’t do this, and strange if the US didn’t do it to them.

Yes, of course, but it would also be strange if the FBI didn't warn about it when they identify it happening so that they can decrease the chance of intelligence gatherers getting what they want.

I agree with the general principle you’re describing, it I’m unconvinced that it applies in this case. Do you see what I mean? How does this warning empower the public?

Perhaps if you're a researcher at a university and you get an interesting business offer out of the blue in exchange for access to something (maybe data you've gathered), you may be a bit more wary and consider if you're being manipulated by another government's intelligence service.

That’s a good point, and probably good advice regardless of the latest statement from the FBI. Of course if the data is sensitive or controlled, hopefully people are already on that guard.

Why do I care precisely who is manipulating me?

You shouldn't, of course. The FBI is just making people aware of this particular campaign.

How would you prefer them to state it, then? I mean, with the very next breath you admit that it's almost certainly true.

You need to balance reasonable skepticism and dislike of three-letter agencies with the fact that they also do real work in addressing threats from other state actors.

EDIT: If you want a take on this from a less law enforcement-y source, try https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/16/how-china.... Politico can hardly be described as paranoid war-hawks.

Maybe don’t state it? It’s their job to do something about it, not create diffuse bogeymen for ideologues to play with. What does telling us about a drop in an ocean do for us other than sow suspicion? Unless the danger is real and present, requiring public wariness and intervention, keep intelligence matters within the intelligence community.

Edit: That article describes educational institutions run by the Chinese government, rather than the infiltration of US institutions. These strike me as very different topics, especially since one is overt and the other covert.

> Maybe don’t state it? It’s their job to do something about it,

You're presenting a curious case here. You want the intelligence community to respond to threats from state actors, but without ever telling the public that's what they're doing? There are two problems with this:

1. Government transparency - I want to know what the FBI is up to. You are advocating more opacity in their operations, for uncertain gain.

2. What if "doing something about it" requires cooperation from the public? The specific issues under discussion is the Confucius Institutes being established at various universities, but these are not illegal and the FBI has no power to get rid of them, nor do I want them to have that power. All they can do is point out the threat and leave the ultimate decision to the university administrators.

1. We’re not actually learning about what the FBI is up to, just a vague and unhelpful warning of infiltration.

2. The issue of infiltrating US institutions seems separate from overtly running ChiCom schools on US soil.

the fbi is law enforcement. behaving as secret police is not a positive alternative.

The FBI’s remit includes domestic counterintelligence.

it probley wound be better if the usa split the FBI in two

1 A federal police force (with reduced surveillance powers) which would take over the BATF and the currency and uniformed part of the secret service.

2 A separate contra espionage organisation similar to MI5

Oh god, don't give them any ideas. We already have an alphabet soup of intelligence agencies (the IC consists of 16 at the moment), don't make it worse.

I was suggesting that you reduce the number by merging all the policeing type orgs into one FBI, BATF, TSA,DEA etc and merge all of the domestic contra espionage into a new MI5 analog

Of course we do and of course they do. What's interesting is why the sudden "expose" and the media blitz. It's like how we knew the russians and everyone has been taking steroids for decades, but all of a sudden there was a media blitz against russia.

Is it just the elites trying to put pressure on china or are we at the beginning stages of a fundamental shift in our relations with china?

Have the elites decided on a more antagonistic position against china?

as a kid people asked me if I was an atheist or not. I learned to tell them I was an Apathet, that I am Apathetic.

while I recognize there may be impacts to such a decision, I feel apathetic about the decisions of "the elite". I sometimes imagine that we would all benefit from taking this view.

The Chinese government has been very aggressive when it comes to media in foreign countries. Via Foreign Policy (http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/12/21/one-of-americas-biggest-...):

In recent years, and especially since Xi became president in 2012, the Chinese government has sought various ways to increase its influence over China’s 40 million-strong diaspora. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a ministry specifically dedicated to the task, works to extend the party’s reach, and the push has seen increasing success in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, where local ethnic Chinese organizations have begun to vocally push for pro-Beijing policies.

For years The Washington Post ran a paid supplement from the China Daily supplement, which was basically propaganda aimed at English speakers (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/of...):

For instance, the item above: "Stop Telling Us What We Should Do," with "we" being China and the object of the imperative sentence being the nagging United States. Or this one and this, clarifying how unfair it was for foreigners to criticize China's "rare earths" exports policy. As a matter of fact, China's "actions taken in the past few months, and those to be taken in the months to come, are totally legitimate."

In Canada, the CCP pushed Canadian officials to ban English-language reporters from certain events featuring a Chinese official, and kick out a reporter from a local Chinese newspaper that criticized China's human rights record (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/wynne-agrees-t...).

In Hong Kong, the situation for media companies is much worse - agents kidnapped book publishers and booksellers off the street in Hong Kong and Thailand and shipped them to China for trial. Their crimes? Publishing or selling unauthorized books about government officials (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/17/china-behaving... ).

Lam, the 61-year-old manager of the Causeway Bay bookstore, claimed he had spent months in solitary confinement in a cramped cell after being snatched by a group of men as he entered mainland China in October 2015.

“They blindfolded me and put a cap on my head and basically bundled me up,” Lam told reporters.

Lam claimed Chinese agents had forced him to confess to crimes he had not committed during his detention. He said he had decided to speak out after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the booksellers’ disappearances.

How deep does the rabbit hole go... The Atlantic runs an expose on WaPo's China Daily advertorials, meanwhile The Atlantic runs Scientology advertorial


Gosh it's getting so you have to worry that you might inadvertently be exposed to Chinese ideas now. Or that - God forbid - they'll steal all the good pure American ones. Like how to be a spendthrift blowhard with great hair.

Is there any link to intellectual property theft? I always wonder about the need to steal our intellectual property when China is doing so well with their own startups and innovations.

I wonder when the FBI would take similar action on white nationalists who murder innocent immigrants.

Regardless of what side(s) you take, it really is a blessing and benefit of the US system, there can be an open, lively, and free discussion without comments or commentors disappearing as if a phrase would topple an entire system.

Here's where this statement is poisonous: I'm not sure if the FBI is actually being honest, or if this is some Trumpist bullshit that confirms how racist the current administration is.

Either way, I find it hard to believe. If its the former, its not shocking. If its the latter, it's disappointing but not at all surprising.

You find it hard to believe that a major world power is conducting both espionage and soft power campaigns inside the US?

and he finds this hard to believe after a power (russia) interfered massively in an american election? an in europe...

> Trumpist bullshit that confirms how racist the current administration is

Not sure I follow. So say, talking about Chinese hackers exfiltrating the OPM database, and exposing the most intimate secrets of pretty much every 3 letter agency employee (maybe except CIA) is now racist bullshit?

Isn't talking about Russian hackers also racist then?

I'm not sure if the FBI is actually being honest


Xenophobic paranoia, a gift that keeps on giving.

Hard to get through some of these statements:

> They have a long-term strategic objective to become a world power. > Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

O RLY? Funny, last I checked, China was a world power. Shit, China rivals the US as a world power.

> Most Americans have not heard of all of these companies. > Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat

Surprise surprise! Well, most American's haven't heard of Acxiom either. It's always surprising how much other people don't know, isn't it?

And, FWIW, I bet more people have heard about ZTE than half the organizations that contribute to Mark Warner's campaigns. New companies entering our markets from China have to play by the same rules our own companies do, how is this any different. If it is different, why? How does this matter in the discussion of Chinese intelligence gathering. More importantly, who cares?

The fear-mongerers care, that's who.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact