Espionage in Education

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist

The Espionage Act of 1917 made it possible to “punish acts of interference with the foreign relations, and the foreign commerce of the United States, to punish espionage, and better to enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and for other purposes.

What does this have to do with education, you might ask?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education, announced that two ivy league schools, Harvard and Yale, are the subjects of investigations over their possible connections to foreign governments. It is alleged that institutions of higher learning (colleges and universities) may have been soliciting funds from foreign governments and volunteered to provide information of $6.5 billion of previously undisclosed funds from foreign entities.

Why is this a surprise?

This development should not be a surprise to our blog subscribers. The Institute for International Education (IIE) calculates that there are roughly 1,095,299 international students in the United States. This is a 0.05 percent increase over the previous year. Incidentally, IIE reports that “international students make up 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population.” School year 2018-2019 “set an all-time high for the fourth consecutive year with more than one million international students,” exclaimed report-writers. Citing the U.S. Department of Commerce, IEE wrote, “international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year. “

Unfortunately, with the dramatic increase in foreign students comes with it the possible threat of unknowing insertion of spies into the educational establishment. It is not new. In 2019, it was widely reported by US intelligence that China was using student spies to collect industrial secrets. According to the report (as published by CNN) “Beijing is leaning on expatriate Chinese scientists, businesspeople and students; roughly 350,000 from China who study in the US every year — to gain access to anything and everything at American universities and companies that’s of interest to Beijing.”

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What’s the problem?

Traditionally, because of the US superpower status, its “powerful military, huge economy, and a leading role in international institutions” the US has been accustomed to dominating the globe and using its dominance to influence the governing policies and economies of other countries. Added to this is its foreign aid largess; the US provides the greatest amount of international aid to the tune of “$30 billion in 2013.” Additionally “private American companies and foundations also donate billions of dollars in aid every year,” says the BBC.

So getting back to the point

US intelligence argues that China and other foreign nations are utilizing students to “undermine American industries, steal American secrets and eventually diminish American influence in the world so that Beijing can advance its own agenda.” 

Right under our collective noses…..

Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com