Foreign and domestic intelligence agencies are eagerly recruiting informants and sources on American college campuses, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Golden said in a March 6 talk in Princeton.
“The globalization of American universities has turned them into a frontline for both foreign and domestic espionage,” Golden said during an appearance at Labyrinth Books. He described a clandestine network of agents from the FBI, Russia, and other countries trying to steal valuable research.
Golden is an editor at ProPublica. One of his two Pulitzer Prizes recognized his reporting for The Wall Street Journal on admission preferences to children of alumni and donors at U.S. universities, the basis for his 2006 book The Price of Admission.
The number of foreign students and researchers in America has risen dramatically in recent decades, with an exponential rise in the number of Chinese nationals on campuses. A very small number of them have worked with the Chinese government to spy on scientific research and international-relations discussions, Golden said.
At the same time, the FBI and the CIA have tried to recruit foreigners to pass information back to the United States once they return to their home countries, he said. In at least one instance, he said, the CIA set up an academic conference on nuclear physics in a foreign country to recruit Iranian scientists to defect to America.
He read passages from his new book, Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities, which was released in October. One scene involved a story of spying in Princeton.
In that case, the CIA had tried and failed to recruit a foreign nuclear scientist as a spy, and the spy then took a temporary position at the University, Golden said. The FBI had dedicated an agent to Princeton, and he set about recruiting the scientist.
Another agent befriended the scientist, and gradually asked him to provide more and more information about his work. Eventually, the scientist asked to talk with the FBI, on the condition that it would help his son be accepted into an American college.
Golden gave hints about a second case at Princeton. The FBI agent in Princeton had attempted to recruit a Chinese graduate student at the Woodrow Wilson School until he left New Jersey in 1994 to teach at the University of Southern Florida, Golden said. There was plenty of intrigue in the story, but Golden would not reveal more.
Although the author’s talk mostly dealt with contemporary connections, the CIA and other American intelligence agencies have had a strong link to Princeton and other Ivy schools for decades. Allen Dulles 1914 *1916 was the CIA’s longest-serving director, holding the position from 1953-61.
Golden noted that FBI director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month about Chinese espionage on college campuses. Of particular concern is the Confucius Institute, an educational organization affiliated with the Chinese government that has outposts at more than 100 American colleges. Many of the topics Wray discussed appear in Golden’s book.
“He neglected to mention that, as my book also documents, the FBI does the same thing as they’re accusing the Chinese of,” Golden said.