A private intelligence company called Strider released a 32-page report today which explains how China was able to lure US scientists working on government funded research to China. So many of those scientists were recruited from Los Alamos labs to work at universities in China that they became known informally as the Los Alamos Club. Strider’s report explains that the club was first mentioned in a 2017 news story:
The inspiration for this report comes from a March 2017 article in the South China Morning Post titled “America’s Hidden Role in Chinese Weapons Research.” The article notes that so many former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have returned to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and are now working on military research programs that they are referred to as the “Los Alamos Club.” However, no specifics about this “Club,” its membership, or the programs these scientists are working on were reported.
After digging through publicly available information, Strider was able to confirm that story was true and to show that the scientists who returned to China helped to create advances for the Chinese military.
At least 154 Chinese scientists who worked on government-sponsored research at the U.S.’s foremost national security laboratory over the last two decades have been recruited to do scientific work in China — some of which helped advance military technology that threatens American national security — according to a new private intelligence report obtained by NBC News.
The report, by Strider Technologies, describes what it calls a systemic effort by the government of China to place Chinese scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where nuclear weapons were first developed.
Many of the scientists were later lured back to China to help make advances in such technologies as deep-earth-penetrating warheads, hypersonic missiles, quiet submarines and drones, according to the report.
Scientists were paid as much as $1 million through participation in Chinese government “talent programs,” which are designed to recruit Chinese scientists to return to China. Such talent programs have long been identified as a source of concern, but U.S. officials said they had not previously seen an unclassified report that described the phenomenon in such detail, naming specific scientists and the projects they have worked on.
I’ve written about these talent programs before but Strider has a brief summary of their history:
With a large and growing pool of researchers, academics, and scientists studying overseas, the PRC in the 1990s began to implement programs designed to encourage their return to China. In 1994, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) initiated the Hundred Talents Program (百人计划), an initiative specifically dedicated to the recruitment of overseas experts. Inspired by the success of the Hundred Talents Program, the PRC Ministry of Education in 1998 created the Changjiang Scholars Award Program (长江学者奖励计划) to recruit overseas talent to work in PRC research institutions. A decade later, the Thousand Talents Program (TTP) launched. Today, the PRC operates a constellation of more than 470 distinct talent programs at the central, provincial, municipal, and even institutional level that are aimed at recruiting top talent, especially overseas talent, for key PRC institutions…
Of the 162 Los Alamos scientists who have returned to China, at least 17, including 13 permanent staff members, were selected into the TTP. Members of the TTP receive RMB 1,000,000 (approximately USD $155,000) and a research subsidy of RMB 3 million to 5 million (approximately USD $465,000 to $775,000).
Essentially these talent programs recruit and pay promising scientists to return to China where they get jobs working at Chinese universities and begin publishing in their field of expertise. Many of these scientists wound up at a new university which was only founded in 2010 but which has a goal of becoming China’s Stanford University. Given how it has recruited many of its scientists the school has the perfect name: SUSTECH, the Southern University of Science and Technology. Here’s Strider’s conclusion:
China’s recruitment of individuals who have worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory reflects the evolution of the PRC’s overall talent strategy and shows how China’s rapid advances in certain key military technologies are being aided by individuals who may be applying knowledge obtained while participating in sensitive U.S. government–funded research.85 The PRC’s success at Los Alamos, and support for China’s talent programs by Xi Jinping and other top CCP leaders, suggest that similar efforts may be widespread at other U.S. government–funded laboratories, research institutions, and major centers of innovation.
Here’s NBC News‘ segment on the report.