Spies on Campus — The Threat of Espionage in Academia

“My first thinking was, ‘Whoa, this person just kind of asked me to spy for the U.S. government.’ And I’m here as part of a program that is supposed to encourage solidarity and people-to-people exchange.”

Alex van Schaick — Former Fulbright scholar researching organized labor movements in Bolivia

Many think of spying as something that happens at foreign embassies and exotic locations, but it may be happening much closer to home, perhaps right under your nose. As VOA’s Tina Trinh reports, spycraft is something that’s happening at universities across the United States, where espionage is often carried out under the guise of global education. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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According to Special Agent Charlie McGonigal  — in charge of the counterintelligence division at the FBI’s field office in New York — espionage on campus is a big problem.

“In the United States, our academic institutions are very open,” said McGonigal.

“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.”

“Students are recruited by those governments, and 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 spy efforts are a two-way street, and the United States is no stranger to intelligence-gathering operations in academia, either.

Alex van Schaick was a Fulbright scholar researching organized labor movements in Bolivia when he met a U.S. government official for what he presumed to be a customary security briefing.

Van Schaick was troubled by the request from the official. “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, because we know they’re out there, and we want to keep tabs on them.’” [VOA]

Does this story ring a bell?

Giulio Regeni (15 January 1988 – 1st or 2nd February 2016) went missing in Cairo after speaking to trade union and opposition activists.

His mutilated body was later found on the side of the road. He appeared to have been horribly tortured.

Regeni was a PhD student at Girton College, Cambridge, researching Egypt’s independent trade unions. Why was he murdered? Why a botched investigation? The case was never solved.

RELATED POST: Who Tortured Giulio Regeni to Death? And Why? [UPDATE]

Spies on Campus

REFERENCES

Spies on Campus Pose Threat to Academia — VOA

The CIA Within Academe — INSIDE Higher Ed

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Spies on Campus — The Threat of Espionage in Academia

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