A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.
In September 2011, sheriff’s deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two-year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men’s rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country—all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. In The Scientist and the Spy, Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far-reaching investigation, which pitted a veteran FBI special agent against Florida resident Robert Mo, who after his academic career foundered took a questionable job with the Chinese agricultural company DBN—and became a pawn in a global rivalry.
Industrial espionage by Chinese companies lies beneath the United States’ recent trade war with China, and it is one of the top counterintelligence targets of the FBI. But a decade of efforts to stem the problem have been largely ineffective. Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, Hvistendahl describes a long history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions the role that corporate influence plays in trade secrets theft cases brought by the U.S. government. The Scientist and the Spy is both an important exploration of the issues at stake and a compelling, involving read.
This fascinating and well-researched study from Hvistendahl (Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men) centers on Robert Mo (aka Mo Hailong), who, as an executive for the Chinese agribusiness DBN, routinely engaged in spying. In a somewhat bumbling scheme, Mo and others from DBN spent weeks driving through central Iowa, stealing corn seeds from farms that used proprietary seeds by giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer and shipping them to China. In 2011, a call from a farmer to a sheriff's deputy to report three Asian men in an SUV hanging around a field sparked a two-year FBI operation that crisscrossed the country and involved an informant consulting for DBN. The stakes were high, Hvistendahl notes, as intellectual theft was costing American companies millions, but, according to the author, there was also racism in the FBI, which had long tracked Chinese scientists in the U.S. Ultimately, only Mo paid a price, pleading guilty to theft of trade secrets and spending three years in prison. His sentence served, he's currently awaiting deportation to China. Those looking for insights into the current tensions with China will be rewarded. Agent: Gillian MacKenzie, MacKenzie Wolf Literary.
Poorly written and organized.
Probably a good story, too bad this book is so poorly written. No continuity from chapter to chapter, sometimes even from paragraph to paragraph. A complete waste of time.