As Russia threatens to use nukes against the U.S. “if the West attacks Russian territory,” a disturbing story has come out in recent days detailing the recruitment of over a hundred Chinese scientists who had worked at the nuclear research lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to bring whatever they may have learned back to China.
Welcome back to the 80s. It’s possibly scarier now.
While the Cold War carried a very constant, very weird threat of nuclear destruction, the world had only a weakened Soviet Union with which to contend. Now it’s an Old Soviet named Putin and a much stronger China.
The report asserted that between 1987 and 2021, at least 162 scientists who passed through the nuclear research lab returned and worked with the Chinese government.
Of these, 15 were permanent staff members, many carrying very high levels of security clearances.
The scientists “returned to the [People’s Republic of China] to support a variety of domestic research and development (R&D) programs,” according to the report.
The assessment continues, “Of those fifteen, thirteen were recruited into PRC government talent programs; some were responsible for sponsoring visiting scholars and postdoctoral researchers from the PRC, and some received U.S. government funding for sensitive research.”
Strider Technologies found that “at least one of these staff members held a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) ‘Q Clearance’ allowing access to Top Secret Restricted Data and National Security Information.”
To their credit, Fox News does a fair job of calling the “recruitment” what it very likely is: “a decades-long campaign to insert and recruit allied researchers”.
In the vernacular, those are called “spies.”
And China’s not content with the nuclear game. Western universities have seen a fair share of researchers paid by China, and in July FBI Director Christopher Wray was warning that China is — almost literally — everywhere.
The Asian nation’s spies were snooping on “companies everywhere from big cities to small towns — from Fortune 100s to startups, folks that focus on everything from aviation, to A.I., to pharma,” Wray said in remarks to a gathering of business leaders and academics in London. He appeared alongside the head of MI5, Ken McCallum — the first time the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence agency have shared a forum.
China was running a “lavishly resourced hacking program that’s bigger than that of every other major country combined,” Wray said, according to a statement from the U.S. government. The nation “sees cyber as the pathway to cheat and steal on a massive scale,” he added.
That kind of dilution will certainly have people charging that anyone concerned is xenophobic — indeed, that’s already happening — but 162 researchers going home to China and taking nuclear secrets with them seems like a problem.
The flip side of that narrative coin is that with Russia’s tough talk on nukes, China is positioning itself as a peacemaker.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis said Sunday that Moscow would be abandoned by its allies—including Iran and China—if Russian President Vladimir Putin used a nuclear weapon on Ukraine.
“He knows if he [used nukes], it would cause the world entirely to turn against him. He would even lose the support of the Chinese, the Iranians. No one is going to support a Russia that uses nuclear weapons. So, I don’t take that seriously,” he added.
How Stavridis’ comments comport with China bringing home nuclear scientists who have trained in the West remains to be seen. But one thing has become very clear — the Cold War is back, and it feels a little hotter.