Feds warn of economic espionage in central Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday he views China as America’s greatest counterintelligence threat.

While Wray was worrying about rivals stealing industrial secrets and intellectual property, federal authorities were meeting in Indianapolis with leaders of private industry, universities and government installations, warning them that the things they think of and the stuff they build could be targets of foreign nationals out to learn what we know and buy or steal it to replace the United States as the world’s premier superpower.

“There are research facilities here at our universities, defense contractors, military facilities here in the state of Indiana that a lot of people don’t necessarily think about when they think of the state of Indiana,” said FBI Special Agent Grant Mendenhall, the Bureau’s head man in Indianapolis. “We’ve got the third largest naval facility in the United States down in Crane and clearly the defense contractors that surround that facility and support that facility.”

It’s been several years since the FBI found Eli Lilly and Dow Agrosciences were targeted by Chinese nationals seeking to steal the latest in pharmaceutical and agricultural advancements.

“We’re engaged in an ongoing game of Whack-A-Mole against people, very smart sophisticated folks, that are trying to do this technology transfer game,” said Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Chris Ford, “but it’s an ongoing game and we need cooperation and support from our private sector colleagues because they are ultimately in many ways the targets of this activity.”

It’s not merely common high tech industrial secrets foreign agents are seeking to acquire.

“So an example for that might be carbon fiber. Carbon fiber, which is high strength, heat resistant, very lightweight, could be used in a golf club shaft but it can be also used in a missile nose cone or to control things,” said Department of Commerce Special Agent Dan Clutch. “Drone technology is really on the forefront right now. You know, drones are up there taking wedding photographs now but they’re also being used for military surveillance and as weapons delivery systems. Some of the most advanced drone technology is happening here in the Midwest.”

“Our adversaries will buy it if they can, they take the path of least resistance, they will buy it first and if they can’t buy it, they will steal it,” said Mendenhall.  “Government and non-government entities in the state of Indiana are threatened by our foreign adversaries in this arena without a doubt.”

Ford refused to confirm whether pursuit of penalties and prosecution against Chinese nationals has increased during the Trump Administration.

He said that while arrests and criminal charges may be rare, sanctions and bans against companies and foreign nationals that attempt to illegally acquire American technology are more common.