Spies have always targeted more than military secrets. Gathering political intelligence and compromising personal information on enemy leaders is as old as our species. "Spying for profit" (economic gain) is old news, though globalization has increased the value of commercial and financial data.
Likewise, spies have long pursued what we now call "proprietary knowledge," particularly when the intellectual property -- which originally indicated a creative intellect owned it -- involved technology having current or potential military application.
However, communist China's pervasive and relentless spy operation targeting American scientific, commercial and economic creativity has no historical precedent.
Dictatorships fear creativity. But Beijing's dictatorial clique isn't stupid. It covets American creativity's economic, military and sociocultural benefits.
Medical breakthroughs have enormous benefits. On April 19, The Houston Chronicle, in collaboration with Science magazine, published a thoroughly sourced investigative report. It detailed invasive and pervasive Chinese espionage at what is arguably the world's premier cancer research facility, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is located in Houston.
Beijing's operational objective: By targeting MD Anderson and its affiliates in the Texas Medical Center, China's communist elites seek to steal the creative genius, decades of training and years of cancer research of some of the world's finest specialists and most brilliant doctors.
Beijing covets their knowledge because, when applied, it has great economic and political value. For example, China could produce and sell high-value, high-prestige pharmaceuticals, and improve its own medical programs, without spending a yuan on research.
The Houston Chronicle said on the macroeconomic cost: "After a 2017 report that found intellectual-property theft by China costs the U.S. as much as $600 billion annually, FBI Director Christopher Wray called China 'the broadest, most significant' threat to the nation and said its espionage is active in all 50 states."
Beijing is filching American investment capital. China's communist masters are ripping off American and Texan taxpayers, who by and large pay the bill for MD Anderson's operations and research projects.
Now for some more Houston Chronicle details. In 2015, federal investigators informed several research institutions that they employed professors who were violating supporting agency policies. In 2017, the cancer center gave the FBI "computer hard drives containing emails for several of its staff members." Last month's report says that The National Institutes of Health provided evidence "describing conflicts of interest or unreported foreign income by five faculty members." As a result of the FBI and internal investigation, the center fired three scientists identified as trying to help China steal "U.S. scientific research."
And this: "In the past 18 months ... 10 MD Anderson senior researchers or administrators of Chinese descent have retired, resigned or been placed on administrative leave."
Chinese government apologists now scream "profiling" and racist discrimination.
The truth is, China's dictatorship abuses ethnic Chinese. Sen. Dianne Feinstein thought an ethnic Chinese man working in her Bay Area office was trustworthy. In 2013, when Feinstein was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI identified the employee as a Chinese Ministry of State Security "asset" -- an intelligence source. The man was forcibly retired. The FBI concluded he had never passed on useful information.
The senator insists the FBI assured her there was no "compromise of national security information."
But Feinstein's focus on national security espionage is deplorably narrow. Witness the vulnerability of institutions like MD Anderson.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Feinstein's employee was "a liaison to the Asian American community." Beijing keeps close tabs on overseas Chinese. It targets students, professionals in hi-tech and the sciences, and their support staff. I'll wager Feinstein's employee provided personal information that Beijing's intelligence pros could use to identify individuals -- of any ethnicity -- who might be blackmailed or beguiled into providing commercial, political and national security intelligence, or even recruited as spies.
To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com. His latest book, "Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century" (Bombardier Books), is available now.