Edward Peng, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested by the police in late September on charges of spying for the Chinese government. A resident of Hayward, California, Peng has a background in traditional Chinese medicine and mechanical engineering.
After arriving in the U.S. in 2001, Peng worked as an acupuncturist during the initial years. He operated a tour company in San Francisco between 2010 and 2015. It is after his business shut down that Peng got involved in espionage. He apparently paid a source up to US$20,000 to obtain digital cards that contained sensitive American intelligence information.
“In five instances between 2015 and 2018, Peng booked a hotel room and left the key at the front desk for the source, as well as an envelope of cash inside the room. He later picked up the SD cards seemingly in exchange for the cash. Authorities allege that Peng conducted the dead drops under orders from a China Ministry of State Security (MSS) handler who mandated the logistics of each drop, including Peng’s trips back to China to deliver the SD cards after he retrieved them,” according to East Bay Times.
The FBI intercepted communications between Peng and MSS while also filming the dead drops. The Justice Department used a “confidential human source” during its investigation on Peng. The U.S. had employed a double agent for the operation who met with MSS officers in China. The officers used this double agent to provide information to Peng, thereby setting the stage for his arrest. Peng was arrested and held without bond. If convicted, he faces a prison term of up to 10 years in addition to US$250,000 in fines for operating in the U.S. as a foreign agent without being registered.
“The charges announced today provide a rare glimpse into the secret efforts of the People’s Republic of China to obtain classified national security information from the United States and the battle being waged by our intelligence and law enforcement communities to protect our people, our ideas, and our national defense,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement (The Epoch Times).
In July, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in front of the Senate that Chinese espionage posed the greatest threat to America, even surpassing Russia. The agency is said to be investigating over 1,000 cases of attempted IP theft and economic espionage, the majority of which involve the Chinese Communist Party.
The FBI has also been contacting universities across America to educate them about the threats they face from Chinese agents who pose as research scholars, professors, and students. In the past two months, a researcher from the University of Kansas and a university professor from Texas have been caught working for Chinese interests.
According to the FBI, their briefings to universities are critical since these educational institutions have focused on collaboration so much that they lag behind when it comes to security. “When we go to the universities, what we’re trying to do is highlight the risk to them without discouraging them from welcoming the researchers and students from a country like China,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in an interview (CBS).
Most universities have been enthusiastic about the FBI’s warnings. The University of Nebraska invited an official to deliver a presentation on the subject. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill conveyed their desire to partner with the FBI to thwart attempts at espionage on their campus.