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There are US, Russian and Chinese spies in your Ivy League schools

The "Lubjanka" building, the headquarters of the Russian/ Sovier secret service "KGB" and "FSB", Moscow. Source: Shutterstock

Ever noticed a shifty character in your college political science class, or befriended a student with an overly contrived back story? Well, it might sound crazy, but they may just be a spy.

A new book from investigative journalist Daniel Golden, blows the lid off CIA, FBI and other foreign intelligence agencies tampering – and often exploiting – the American higher education system.

Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities details the fraught relationship between higher education and intelligence services, both foreign and domestic.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the book explores a number of case studies in which the CIA and FBI use the open and collaborative nature of higher education to their advantage.

But it doesn’t stop there. According to Golden, foreign governments are also capitalising on this freedom to infiltrate the US via education.

“It’s pretty widespread, and I’d say it’s most prevalent at research universities,” Golden, an editor at ProPublica and an alumnus of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, told Inside Higher Ed. “The foreign intelligence services have the interest and the opportunity to learn cutting-edge, Pentagon-funded or government-funded research.”

The prestigious Harvard University gets a lot of attention in the book, which details its cosy relationship with the CIA.

According to Golden, Harvard allows the agency to send officers to the midcareer programme at the Kennedy School of Government while continuing to act undercover. While the university is eventually informed of the “student’s” true identity, their fellow students, however – often high-profile or soon-to-be-high-profile actors in the world of international diplomacy – are kept in the dark.

Kenneth Moskow is one of a long line of CIA officers who have enrolled undercover at the Kennedy School, generally with Harvard’s knowledge and approval, gaining access to up-and-comers worldwide,” Golden writes.

“For four decades, the CIA and Harvard have concealed this practice, which raises larger questions about academic boundaries, the integrity of class discussions and student interactions, and whether an American university has a responsibility to accommodate US intelligence.”

But the CIA isn’t the only intelligence group operating at Harvard. Golden notes Russian spies have enrolled at the Kennedy School, although without Harvard’s knowledge or cooperation.

And they’re not the only ones weaselling their way into American universities. Other countries, such as China, are also interested in exploiting US higher education.

Golden documents the case of Ruopeng Liu, a graduate student at Duke University who siphoned off US-government-funded research to Chinese researchers. Liu eventually returned to China and has used some of the research for his Chinese-government-funded start-up ventures.

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