Philadelphia FBI Special Agent Kathleen Kaderabek presented a video May 22 on a student studying abroad who was persuaded to work for a Chinese intelligence service as a spy on the U.S.
Shown in Drexel’s Rush Building, the video, titled “Game of Pawns: True Story of a Student Travelling Abroad,” told the story of Glenn Duffie Shriver, an American student from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., who in 2004 was studying abroad in Shanghai when he was coerced into working as a spy for the Chinese government.
The FBI created this video in an effort to heighten awareness among students working or studying abroad of foreign recruitment against the U.S. or major U.S. companies.
“This was just created to give everyone that awareness whether you travel to China, London, Paris [or] Moscow, just to be aware when you’re over there, when you’re studying,” Kaderabek said. “Just to be careful when you’re in a foreign country, and then also when you come back.”
The video, a re-creation of the true story, depicts Shriver as a student finishing his study-abroad experience and looking for a way to stay in Shanghai. Because he needs a visa to do so and a job to acquire the visa, he answers an online advertisement asking for American students willing to write papers on U.S.-Chinese relations. He meets a Chinese woman named Amanda, who quickly befriends him.
Impressed with his writing, Amanda brings Shriver to meet her supervisor. The supervisor, who also claims to be impressed with his work, gives Shriver cash as a stipend to supposedly pay for Shriver’s education, but he asks to keep the exchange confidential. According to Kaderabek, this is the first point in the video at which Shriver should have noticed “red flags” about the situation.
However, with cash and praise from Amanda and her supervisor, Shriver continues to work and trust both of them, even taking a test to work for the state department at the U.S. consulate after being encouraged by them. Though Shriver fails the test, Amanda and her supervisor give him money, which in turn makes him trust them enough to give them details of what the test asked for — even though doing so is illegal.
Shriver then goes on to meet with a Chinese man of a higher position, “Mr. Wu,” who urges Shriver to work for the CIA and get information that would “improve relations” between the U.S. and China. He claims that doing so “would be beneficial” for the two countries. Because Shriver trusts Amanda and her supervisor and received $40,000 from Mr. Wu for applying to the CIA, he accepts the task, even though he admits later that the offer initially made him uncomfortable.
“Why’d I do it? I don’t know,” Shriver comments in the video. “I guess it was just hard to turn off the tab. And it wasn’t like I’d actually done anything wrong. There was a good chance the CIA wouldn’t even accept me. I could just take the money and run.”
However, Shriver is accepted for an interview with the CIA and flies to Washington, D.C. He says that he felt confident going into the interview until he took the required polygraph test. When the tester began to ask Shriver questions about China and if he had ever worked with the Chinese government, he became nervous and left, telling the CIA he was no longer interested in the job.
As portrayed in the video, Shriver booked a flight soon after leaving the interview and was on a plane to China when he was found and arrested. Charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, Shriver pled guilty and is currently finishing a four-year sentence in federal prison.
Though the CIA later released a statement saying that they had been tracking Shriver’s movements early on in his hiring process, they have kept the details of the arrest confidential.
Today, Shriver has given up all the details of his work with the Chinese Intelligence Service and admits that finding any job as a convicted felon will be extremely hard.
“I don’t know what I would have done in a situation if everything would have gone the way the Chinese agents foresaw it,” Shriver said in a prerecorded interview. “If I was placed in that position, yeah, I’m going to tell you, ‘No, I would never do that,’ and I don’t think I would. On the other hand, if I see a video of my 24-year-old self accepting $20,000 and I work for the CIA and [the Chinese say], ‘Get us these secrets; it’s not really a big deal, it’s just something very small,’ I don’t know what I would do,” Shriver said.
Shriver’s story was the first case in which the FBI knew of a U.S. student targeted by a foreign government specifically to come back and spy for them. According to Kaderabek, the FBI considers Shriver’s story a success.
“The fear was, ‘What if he had gotten on board with the CIA, the [National Security Agency], the FBI [or a] [Department of Defense] contractor, and the Chinese intelligence service came to him two years later and said, ‘Hey, give us that $10 million worth of research … whatever the latest and greatest is,’” Kaderabek said.
Though China is the threat depicted in the film and is likely the biggest threat to the U.S. in the cyber world, Kaderabek said China isn’t the only country to recruit students as spies and that the process of recruitment is very subtle.
“The whole grooming process where [Amanda] met with [Shriver], and then a few months later [he met] with the middleman and then [met] with the big guy — that’s … the way the Chinese do it and how they bring somebody along,” Kaderabek said.
Acknowledging that cases such as Shriver’s are usually hard to detect, Kaderabek said she hopes the video spreads awareness of recruiting, especially to those who are working for companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing that may have powerful information. She said those students are the biggest targets for international recruiting.
“You do get approached at a conference, you get approached on campus, you travel for a conference. [It] doesn’t matter where you travel to; it’s very subtle,” Kaderabek said.
“Especially if some of you go on to government agencies, that you have a clearance,” Kaderabek continued to say, “but it’s not just national security information; it’s intellectual property. We’re (the FBI) trying to get some awareness out there, no matter who you go to work for. … [Think], what are the crown jewels at that company?”
Kaderabek said that when students go abroad for any reason, they should look for “red flags” and assess a situation that could possibly turn illegal. If a student works for a company with important information, even if there is little potential for the student to access it, foreign agencies may still target that student to get into the company.
“They say everyone has their price, and … when you’re being told, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do anything about it, we just want to be your friend, here’s $10,000 no big deal,’ you know that’s hard to say no to,” Shriver said.
“Recruitment’s going on; don’t fool yourself,” Shriver continued. “The recruitment is active, and its target is young people. [The idea is to] throw lots of money at them and see what happens.”