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The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage

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A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. In September 2011, sheriff's deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. In September 2011, sheriff's deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two-year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men's rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country--all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. In The Scientist and the Spy, Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far-reaching investigation, which pitted a veteran FBI special agent against Florida resident Robert Mo, who after his academic career foundered took a questionable job with the Chinese agricultural company DBN--and became a pawn in a global rivalry. Industrial espionage by Chinese companies lies beneath the United States' recent trade war with China, and it is one of the top counterintelligence targets of the FBI. But a decade of efforts to stem the problem have been largely ineffective. Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, Hvistendahl describes a long history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions the role that corporate influence plays in trade secrets theft cases brought by the U.S. government. The Scientist and the Spy is both an important exploration of the issues at stake and a compelling, involving read.


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A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. In September 2011, sheriff's deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. In September 2011, sheriff's deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two-year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men's rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country--all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. In The Scientist and the Spy, Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far-reaching investigation, which pitted a veteran FBI special agent against Florida resident Robert Mo, who after his academic career foundered took a questionable job with the Chinese agricultural company DBN--and became a pawn in a global rivalry. Industrial espionage by Chinese companies lies beneath the United States' recent trade war with China, and it is one of the top counterintelligence targets of the FBI. But a decade of efforts to stem the problem have been largely ineffective. Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, Hvistendahl describes a long history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions the role that corporate influence plays in trade secrets theft cases brought by the U.S. government. The Scientist and the Spy is both an important exploration of the issues at stake and a compelling, involving read.

30 review for The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage

  1. 5 out of 5

    Todd Wright

    What makes a bad book bad? This is a classic example. The author has an interesting premise and has mastered the mechanics of writing but the finished product leaves you wishing she had written a journal article instead of a book. She had an interesting story to tell but the book goes wildly off the rails when she begins to include personal anecdotes in a failed attempt to bolster her credibility. Then to fill space she she pads her research with opinions and speculation. Hvistendahl has What makes a bad book bad? This is a classic example. The author has an interesting premise and has mastered the mechanics of writing but the finished product leaves you wishing she had written a journal article instead of a book. She had an interesting story to tell but the book goes wildly off the rails when she begins to include personal anecdotes in a failed attempt to bolster her credibility. Then to fill space she she pads her research with opinions and speculation. Hvistendahl has forgotten the journalist's maxim "abandon opinions to learn the truth." I couldn't finish the book, instead I simply googled the incident. Far more satisfying.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeep Gidi

    Simple story, biased author, not worth the time This is a pretty straightforward story of Chinese spying that could have been told in one chapter. Author seems to have little problem with Chinese espionage. Disappointing book and the authors bias was even more disappointing. Simple story, biased author, not worth the time This is a pretty straightforward story of Chinese spying that could have been told in one chapter. Author seems to have little problem with Chinese espionage. Disappointing book and the author’s bias was even more disappointing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katie (katieladyreads)

    Finished. Absolutely wild. Super thought provoking. Def hoping to continue to follow this story in the news 😳 thank you again to @riverheadbooks for the free copy. Ill be thinking about this one for awhile Finished. Absolutely wild. Super thought provoking. Def hoping to continue to follow this story in the news 😳 thank you again to @riverheadbooks for the free copy. I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Hvistendahl presents a thoroughly researched and engaging account of a case of economic espionage against a Chinese citizen. She does an excellent job factually breaking down the components of the case while providing background and context that caution the US against being overzealous in its application of law enforcement methods. However, the overall message of this book breaks down as Hvistendahl tries to reconcile the dangers of ethnic profiling versus the actual economic espionage going on Hvistendahl presents a thoroughly researched and engaging account of a case of economic espionage against a Chinese citizen. She does an excellent job factually breaking down the components of the case while providing background and context that caution the US against being overzealous in its application of law enforcement methods. However, the overall message of this book breaks down as Hvistendahl tries to reconcile the dangers of ethnic profiling versus the actual economic espionage going on in the world today. At times Hvistendahl's insight is excellent, but she falls short of the admittedly challenging task of tying the whole story together. Hvistendahl does an adequate job highlighting the potential pitfalls of conducting an investigation into a politically sensitive issue that can result in racial profiling. However, it is difficult to see where this narrative fits in with the main story about a Chinese citizen who was caught red-handed in corn fields and mailing seeds in pursuit of the theft of trade secrets. On the one hand, the example Hvistendahl uses to highlight the threat of economic espionage from Chinese citizens was started in a legitimate and traditional way (a tip from local authorities) and used traditional law enforcement and investigation techniques (surveillance, confidential human source, interviews, etc.). However, Hvistendahl then describes other cases where racial profiling was present or law enforcement techniques in appropriately used to accuse innocent people of serious crimes. In the end, Hvistendahl does not reconcile these competing narratives. Has the FBI overcome the mistakes of the past, or is it making the same mistakes again? The reader gets a sense that Hvistendahl brings up the previous abuses of law enforcement in investigating law-abiding scientists and students to serve as a warning, but she, again, does not reconcile this with the straightforward case of the theft of seeds. One major gap in this book is that Hvistendahl does not reconcile her suggestion that law enforcement overreached in the main case with the publicly available resources on how federal law enforcement investigations are conducted. She suggests that the use of an airplane and a FISA warrant overreach, but she does not address that these are perfectly acceptable techniques in any investigation as long as they are limited in scope and obtain information that is not available in any other source. To suggest that law enforcement overreached is to suggest that the information being sought could have been obtained in a less obtrusive manner, or that the information being obtained was irrelevant to the prosecution. Hvistendahl suggests neither. One of the most insightful points that is not followed up on enough comes when Hvistendahl talks about how China scholar Peter Mattis has described how we can view Chinese espionage, both state-sponsored and that of private companies, as similar to traditional espionage conducted by any country or company. This perspective provides the solution to the problems of racial profiling and law enforcement overreach. That is, the government should simply treat a Chinese spy as they would a Russian spy and the theft of trade secrets of a Chinese company as that of a German company. The biggest weakness of Hvistendahl's book is that she does not address how several of the points she explores can be true at the same time. Chinese state and non-state actors have a strong interest in both stealing US state and trade secrets and undermining mitigation efforts by any means possible, including inflating concerns about racial profiling. This is not to suggest that racial profiling does not exist though. Where it does, it should be confronted by supervisors, politicians, and judges for individuals to be held to account. Hvistendahl could have also discussed about how inexperience and incompetence are possible factors in the failure of some investigations. Also, Hvistendahl should have considered what the posture of the US government and the public should be towards bringing investigations to trial. If only the strongest cases are brought to trial, the US would end up with a system like Japan that is criticized for its high conviction rate and low possibility of success for the defense at trial. If all investigations are brought to trial, too many innocent people have their lives upended unfairly. The unfortunate result is that some people found to be innocent will have their lives upended. Many of these people will truly be innocent, but in some cases criminals will get away with crimes thanks to incompetence by the investigators and prosecution or thanks to a tight defense. The balance has to be drawn in a way that protects the innocent while challenging potential criminals who are actually good enough at their schemes to minimize the evidence left behind while securing a good defense.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Russell Atkinson

    As a retired FBI agent who worked both foreign counterintelligence against China and Economic Espionage cases, I found this book fascinating. I did not know of this particular case before reading the book, and have no preconceived notions about the case itself. The prose flows smoothly here with the author's engaging style. Her research is good but I got the impression there was a slight pro-China or at least pro-Chinese individuals leaning in her writing, which is only natural for someone who As a retired FBI agent who worked both foreign counterintelligence against China and Economic Espionage cases, I found this book fascinating. I did not know of this particular case before reading the book, and have no preconceived notions about the case itself. The prose flows smoothly here with the author's engaging style. Her research is good but I got the impression there was a slight pro-China or at least pro-Chinese individuals leaning in her writing, which is only natural for someone who spent years there and no doubt has many friendships and deep roots there. Investigating and prosecuting economic espionage cases is a very complex business and much of the investigator's job cannot be brought out or appreciated in a book of this nature. Still, I think the author does a good job of discussing how victim companies are in a bind when the FBI or any law enforcement becomes involved and almost adversarial to the government in such cases. I wish she had spent a little more time on that. The criminal prosecution complicates their business, often threatening to reveal their trade secrets in court. If civil litigation is in process, which it usually is, the defense is handed the argument that the victim company is using the government as their agent or their investigator. The argument goes that the government shouldn't put its finger on the scales of what is essentially a business dispute. My view is that a theft is a theft whether the victim is Molly's Hair Salon or Megacorp and law enforcement should investigate crimes and prosecute thieves. A crime victim should be allowed to cooperate with law enforcement without being punished for it. One glaring omission for those of us in the field is the issue of adequate protection. In order to have a crime under the EEA of 1996, whether trade secret theft or economic espionage, it is necessary to prove that the trade secret was in fact a secret, i.e. that it was sufficiently well-protected. The defense will always claim that it wasn't really a secret, or not well-protected enough to be considered secret. In effect the argument becomes, "if my client was able to steal it, then it must not be a trade secret and therefore not a crime." The crime, in effect, doesn't ever exist. I consider the argument to be specious. The author confuses this issue with the technological value of the thing stolen. A trade secret doesn't have to be technology at all. In fact, the most valuable trade secret in most companies is a Rolodex with names of customers or suppliers. It can be internal pay records and personnel performance reviews. It seems to me that the issue of protections afforded (or not) to the corn seed lines was, or should have been, a major issue in this case, yet it was little discussed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clara Patricia

    Note: The copy I have with me is the uncorrected version, which I have won through a raffle by Fully Booked called 20 Reads for 2020. I cannot cite the book as such, and will still have to refer to the officially published version. However, I believe that I somehow have the very skeleton of the book to be released on 04 February 2020. The book, despite being a non-fiction account of the case of Hailong Mo, reads like an action-suspense novel. I finished the book in such a short time because I Note: The copy I have with me is the uncorrected version, which I have won through a raffle by Fully Booked called 20 Reads for 2020. I cannot cite the book as such, and will still have to refer to the officially published version. However, I believe that I somehow have the very skeleton of the book to be released on 04 February 2020. The book, despite being a non-fiction account of the case of Hailong Mo, reads like an action-suspense novel. I finished the book in such a short time because I cannot put it down - I wanted to know what happened next. Hvistendahl did an excellent job in writing simply whilst providing the reader with a background on industrial espionage both from the American and Chinese perspectives. She also suspends bias and is critical of the racial profiling evident from how the FBI handled several alleged trade / defense / scientific secret theft cases. She illustrates how industrial espionage has always been an existing issue overshadowed by terrorism. Using numerous sources ranging from firsthand interviews as well as court proceedings and news articles, Hvistendahl writes a compelling account of the economic espionage cases and its effect to a nation long hailed as the epitome of democracy - an ironic claim for various nationalities that make up "America".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This gripping true account of the attempt by the FBI to stop the theft of agricultural trade secrets by a group from China also deals with the related issue of racial profiling in U.S. crime enforcement.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ken Hammond

    Who knew spying about corn could be so interesting. I now know a lot more about corn than I should know, or need to know. But we live for those moments don't we.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The bias demonstrated by the author comes through clearly which casts some doubt on how true is this "True Story of China". When Nancy Pelosi implores Europe to avoid Chinese technology I begin to wonder what she has learned from security sources "in camera". For me, Pelosi has lots of integrity. The book is, however, well written and presents its case forcefully, especially on the impact on US business and citizens.

  10. 5 out of 5

    PSexton

    It was a false promise. I thought I was going to read factual, unbiased information about the issues that the United States has in dealing with an example of Chinese espionage in its obvious attempt to steal rather than innovate. Instead the author presents an incredibly biased account of her views of relationships between the United States and its own Chinese American citizens; although she doesn't seem to actually distinguish between true Chinese Americans and those who still prefer to hold It was a false promise. I thought I was going to read factual, unbiased information about the issues that the United States has in dealing with an example of Chinese espionage in its obvious attempt to steal rather than innovate. Instead the author presents an incredibly biased account of her views of relationships between the United States and its own Chinese American citizens; although she doesn't seem to actually distinguish between true Chinese Americans and those who still prefer to hold Chinese passports! She begins to exhibit the exact bias that she purports our FBI and citizens to have when she describes Trump and his supporters. What had been a thinly-veiled bias became glaring with her choice of descriptive adjectives. In the end, this book was an extremely disappointing read. A true waste of time if you really want to understand the motivations behind Chinese espionage.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    A shocking sad story of a Chinese American National was was seen gathering corn seed from the ground in a field in Iowa after the corn had been harvested. The man, called Robert Ho, was a scientist turned businessman working for a Chinese company developing seed. The seed was a type developed by Monstanto which they hoped would be resistant to their pesticide, Roundup. What happens is a espionage case that entails a farmer who agreed to allow Monsanto to test their seed, an American resident A shocking sad story of a Chinese American National was was seen gathering corn seed from the ground in a field in Iowa after the corn had been harvested. The man, called Robert Ho, was a scientist turned businessman working for a Chinese company developing seed. The seed was a type developed by Monstanto which they hoped would be resistant to their pesticide, Roundup. What happens is a espionage case that entails a farmer who agreed to allow Monsanto to test their seed, an American resident from China accused of espionage, countless FBI and law enforcement staff for years, family who have to pay bail and house arrest fees, and China who are watching an increasing number of their nationals arrested and accused in the United States of corporate espionage. What is more pronounced overall yet very hidden in this case, is how little benefit this case had in corporate security. The seed was all over the world before the case even ended and outdated. The harm in Chinese and US relations and cooperation between nations in development of new resources that benefit everyone. FISA is often a rubber stamp of any warrant and that countless resources are being used to prosecute people for little effect. A wake up call and heartbreaking too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rollin

    Mara Hvistendahls The Scientist and the Spy is a much needed work for today as the specter of Chinas geopolitical threat looms large in Americas imagination. Hvistendahl deftly navigates between the reality of Chinese espionage alongside the racism and violation of civil liberties the U.S. government has undertaken in the face of that reality. She writes with refreshing nuance by introducing how this pissing match between the geopolitical rivals often comes to the gain of large multinational Mara Hvistendahl’s The Scientist and the Spy is a much needed work for today as the specter of China’s geopolitical threat looms large in America’s imagination. Hvistendahl deftly navigates between the reality of Chinese espionage alongside the racism and violation of civil liberties the U.S. government has undertaken in the face of that reality. She writes with refreshing nuance by introducing how this pissing match between the geopolitical rivals often comes to the gain of large multinational corporations protecting their market power and at the expense of everyday individuals tussled between the interests of state and capital. Hvistendahl is able to paint this detailed backdrop through the story of Robert [Hailong] Mo, who was convicted of agricultural espionage in his shipping of proprietary corn seed to China. This book has received a considerable amount of praise for a vivid retelling of this spy chase between a desperate foreign agent and a by-the-book FBI agent. The thrills are perhaps overstated (the salacious espionage amounts to a man digging up corn kernels in a field) yet the narrative is an apt vessel for Hvistendahl to tell the larger story of U.S.-China relations. (Though I may have been bored by this tale of spy intrigue as I just finished the television show The Americans about Soviet sleeper agents in America which was far more dramatic than this corporate dirt digging.) As a Chinese American, Hvistendahl’s writing on race was extraordinarily refreshing and was where I think where her work shined the most. Chapters 14 and 23 stand out where she explores the history and reemergence of sinophobia in America’s research community. Hvistendahl uses a variety of sources like internal FBI memos and talking points, court cases and interviews with Chinese American advocates and victims to interrogate the U.S. government’s racist and orientalist logic behind its crackdown and the human cost it has to Chinese American families. As American discourse around China affairs grows more toxic and visceral, Hvistendahl’s research and care renews a hope within me that we can have a conversation beyond Chinese Americans denying they eat dogs and bats and are default communist party stooges. Her descriptions of seed breeding and agricultural practices were ultimately a bore. I refuse to believe that it is due to any deficiency in her skills as a science writer but the fact that she herself admitted that the intricacies of such practices were pedantic and Byzantine. She must’ve referenced the breeding method of “chasing the self” at least fifteen times and I still don’t have the faintest clue as to what that means. Nevertheless, this book is ultimately a story of people and their relationships to forces larger themselves and there is only more to gain by removing her technical digressions.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Yibbie

    A third, maybe a half, of this book was a solid three stars maybe three and a half stars. The remainder was so aggravating that I would give it zero stars if I could. The actual recounting of Mos espionage, capture, and trial was really well done. Hvistendahl is quite talented at putting you right in the heart of the action. Unfortunately, she alternates those bits with long article type chapters whose may point seems to be proving that all farmers and law enforcement officers are racist bigots, A third, maybe a half, of this book was a solid three stars maybe three and a half stars. The remainder was so aggravating that I would give it zero stars if I could. The actual recounting of Mo’s espionage, capture, and trial was really well done. Hvistendahl is quite talented at putting you right in the heart of the action. Unfortunately, she alternates those bits with long article type chapters whose may point seems to be proving that all farmers and law enforcement officers are racist bigots, and corporations are bad. She does acknowledge that China does have a long full record of ripping off American technology, and she is writing a book about a Chinese national creeping through cornfields to steal seeds. Still, Hvistendahl seems more determined to explain the distrust of Chinese scientists and researchers in American solely in terms of racism. For example, when the law is called on the Asian man dressed in business casual that was dropped off by an SUV in a cornfield in rural Iowa and is now digging in the dirt, it’s not because that’s strange behavior. It’s because he’s Chinese. Or as she constantly says, ethnic Chinese, which at times obscures whether she is referring to Americans of Chinese decent or Chinese citizens. And to even suspect that Chinese nationals might be spies is simply racist and xenophobic. Well, there was one case where they did steal our tech to jumpstart their space program. Still, according to her and community activists, American law enforcement is just stuck in the racist past to think that spying might be going on in our top research or tech facilities. It was just an odd contrast between her opinion sections that downplay the possibility of espionage and the chapters that chronicle actual espionage in action. She had a great story to tell and opted to bog it down with lots of opinions. Especially towards the end of the book, she seems extremely sympathetic towards Mo’s excuses and complaints. To the point that she seemed to suggest that it wasn’t really fair to punish him for stealing. That was rather tied up with her argument that maybe the government shouldn’t be protecting the intellectual property rights of large corporations. Needless to say, I was unconvinced by any of her arguments. I thought they were extremely poorly supported, even by the handful of cases she presents. It was a clean book though. There was only one ‘mild’ curse word.

  14. 5 out of 5

    RuthAnn

    Wow, this book was full of new topics that I had never really learned about: genetically modified plants, corn breeding, and trade espionage! At times, the narrative dragged because there are so many names, and the minutia gets pretty in the weeds, fair warning. Also note that although this story is about Chinese scientists and espionage, it is not an #ownvoices perspective, although the author has spent significant time in China and I think did a good job disclosing her biases and limitations. Wow, this book was full of new topics that I had never really learned about: genetically modified plants, corn breeding, and trade espionage! At times, the narrative dragged because there are so many names, and the minutia gets pretty in the weeds, fair warning. Also note that although this story is about Chinese scientists and espionage, it is not an #ownvoices perspective, although the author has spent significant time in China and I think did a good job disclosing her biases and limitations. The most interesting aspect for me was how the author connected dots that revealed a pattern in the FBI of xenophobic, racist surveillance and investigation of Chinese civilians in the United States. I think that's the best reason to read this book, even if you have no interest in agricultural details. Thank you to Katie for sending me her copy of this book!

  15. 5 out of 5

    The Artisan Geek

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  16. 5 out of 5

    Shaine

    Gonna chuck this one to DNF. I really wanted to like this book. The initial chapters of the book were interesting. Characters' background were laid out, a little bit of history were thrown here and there and I was all in to digest that. However, at some point in this book, you realize that the pieces of information hinted along the way was enough for you to know what happened. Hence, it became boring. It's unnecessarily long. Writing style was kinda meh.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Clare J

    The blurbs on the back cover are truethis nonfiction book on espionage in the corn industry reads like a thriller. But its much more than that. Hvistendahl tells one mans story through an engaging mix of action and analysis. The book is filled with telling interviews, important historical context, chronicles of corporate consolidation, and humane characterizations of people on all sides of the issue. It offers a balanced picture of what is more typically a good-vs.-bad one-liner. Plus The blurbs on the back cover are true—this nonfiction book on espionage in the corn industry reads like a thriller. But it’s much more than that. Hvistendahl tells one man’s story through an engaging mix of action and analysis. The book is filled with telling interviews, important historical context, chronicles of corporate consolidation, and humane characterizations of people on all sides of the issue. It offers a balanced picture of what is more typically a good-vs.-bad one-liner. Plus Hvistendahl’s language and pacing make this a truly enjoyable read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Salgado

    The book is incredibly well written and documented. In every moment it looks like the author has every detail of the facts, while at the same time has a good eye for narrative licences. It is a report that can be read as a thriller, I couldn't put it down. It is a story about the impact of great power competition and nationalism in human lives, the impunity of the great corporations with a little bit of corn involved.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Page 247: "'Should I leave it open?' the officer asked. The subtext was Are you comfortable being alone with him, with this man who has stolen corn?" Next page: "Butner Low is part of the Butner Federal Medical Center complex, and its inmates have either serious health conditions or lawyers powerful enough to argue persuasively that they are ill. Some call it Club Fed. The hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff was incarcerated at another prison in the complex, and for a while Matthew Kluger, a Page 247: "'Should I leave it open?' the officer asked. The subtext was Are you comfortable being alone with him, with this man who has stolen corn?" Next page: "Butner Low is part of the Butner Federal Medical Center complex, and its inmates have either serious health conditions or lawyers powerful enough to argue persuasively that they are ill. Some call it Club Fed. The hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff was incarcerated at another prison in the complex, and for a while Matthew Kluger, a charismatic corporate lawyer convicted of insider trading also served time at Butner Low." There's not much that is argued persuasively in this book in support of the author's clearly articulated opinions on issues. If you agree with, or are sympathetic to, the author's perspective going in, this book may be readable. If, however, you are skeptical of the overall theme of this polemic -- that much of the concern regarding Chinese industrial espionage is the product of exaggerated xenophobia and racism or, failing that, turnabout and fairplay -- it is a slog, largely because the facts presented in support of the argument seem to largely undermine the premise. These excerpts from the end of the book, beginning with a snarky description of a passing exchange with a prison guard as service to the polemic's assertion that this is all gross over-reaction to problems that do not (or maybe do) exist, followed by a characterization of the institution that seems to contradict the meaning ascribed to the quick exchange, is emblematic of the entirety of the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    June

    I received a digital ARC for the purpose of providing an unbiased review. It contained many typos that I hope were corrected before the book went to press. But really, I would have recommended more developmental editing overall. The author spins some interesting anecdotes in readable prose, but often the stories feel incomplete or biased. She is eager to defend Chinese scientists and other citizens against racism, stereotyping, and unjust suspicion, but the story itself actually takes shape in a I received a digital ARC for the purpose of providing an unbiased review. It contained many typos that I hope were corrected before the book went to press. But really, I would have recommended more developmental editing overall. The author spins some interesting anecdotes in readable prose, but often the stories feel incomplete or biased. She is eager to defend Chinese scientists and other citizens against racism, stereotyping, and unjust suspicion, but the story itself actually takes shape in a way that Monsanto and Pioneer are the victims, and the bumbling espionage crew is unlikable and greedy, Framing the book differently could have shifted the focus to something less emotional and reactionary.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian Miller

    A very interesting read about the growing threat of intellectual espionage and how little of a handle we really have to deal with this emerging threat. The book covers the case of a small Chinese team that is sent to the US for the purpose of stealing new breeds of corn so that China can help feed its enormous population. The Chinese group is basically a bumbling group of individuals who can do little right and the US which seems always a step behind. A really good read that shows how the world A very interesting read about the growing threat of intellectual espionage and how little of a handle we really have to deal with this emerging threat. The book covers the case of a small Chinese team that is sent to the US for the purpose of stealing new breeds of corn so that China can help feed its enormous population. The Chinese group is basically a bumbling group of individuals who can do little right and the US which seems always a step behind. A really good read that shows how the world may function now that we have become a global society. Thank you Netgalley, by Mara Hvistendahl, PENGUIN GROUP Riverhead, and Riverhead Books for the ARC for my honest review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    its an unexpected page turner - Hvistendahl can write ! lots of loose ends at the conclusion just like real life. Thanks to NetGalley from whom I received a complimentary ARC copy of The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage to read and give an honest review. it’s an unexpected page turner - Hvistendahl can write ! lots of loose ends at the conclusion just like real life. Thanks to NetGalley from whom I received a complimentary ARC copy of The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage to read and give an honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Thea

    This was such a great story and could have been a gripping five stars for me but for the author's bias!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason Muckley

    Mara Hvistendahl's nonfiction espionage thriller about Mo Hailong, aka Robert Mo, brother-in-law of a Chinese billionaire executive at DBN, an agriculture giant in China, who was arrested and charged with industrial espionage, as he was caught stealing seed from Monsanto and Pioneer DuPont, two major U.S. corn producers in Iowa. The story is fascinating as it weaves the increasing hyper-vigilance of the FBI in cases of industrial espionage, stealing IP (intellectual property) and other trade Mara Hvistendahl's nonfiction espionage thriller about Mo Hailong, aka Robert Mo, brother-in-law of a Chinese billionaire executive at DBN, an agriculture giant in China, who was arrested and charged with industrial espionage, as he was caught stealing seed from Monsanto and Pioneer DuPont, two major U.S. corn producers in Iowa. The story is fascinating as it weaves the increasing hyper-vigilance of the FBI in cases of industrial espionage, stealing IP (intellectual property) and other trade secrets, and exporting that knowledge to China to undercut billions of dollars and years of research and development producing technology, such as genetically-modified corn seed that produce greater yields, are resistant to herbicides used to kill weeds, and purportedly have improved flavor and color. Where Ms. Hvistendahl's story diverges from your typical nonfiction espionage thriller, is her assertion that despite Mr. Mo's conviction and guilty plea, Chinese nationalists in America have been consistently and wrongfully subject to racial profiling by the FBI and law enforcement for decades because of the "thousand grains of sand" theory that the FBI holds in regards to the Chinese espionage program. The theory says that while traditional spy agencies such as Russia develops operatives as the neighbor next door who assimilates into the culture but is really a double agent stealing your country's top secret documents, every Chinese nationalist, coming to America to study engineering, science, or any other technical field, is actually an agent of the Chinese government, who is enlisting them as a source for high-level IP to reverse engineer, steal, and turn a profit by reselling a knock-off version back to the U.S. at half the price. Ultimately, the question she poses is, "Does the punishment fit the crime?" If the agent was say a white, Russian spy, and not a Chinese man, would he attract the same attention? Take it another step further, if an American entrepreneur looking to sell "counterfeit" Monsanto seed to a cash-strapped farmer trying to make a living, would they be punished for the crime in the same way? While the issues involved in these geopolitical affairs are not clear cut, one can't help but notice the conspicuous racial profiling occurring in this instance and several other cases involving Chinese-born technologists and federal criminal charges of industrial espionage, many of which are later dropped by the prosecution due to unfounded claims and a lack of evidence.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Will Thompson

    Fair, Detailed, and Enjoyable Mara Hvistendahl lays out the case of Robert Mo, featuring Iowan farmer Kevin Montgomery, FBI agent Mark Betten, and the her own interviews, painting a complex picture of the governments years-long case meant to send a message to the Chinese Communist Party about economic espionage. As the facts unfold, the author excellently describes early US national security apparatus efforts to stem the loss of intellectual property that became reductivist and xenophobic Fair, Detailed, and Enjoyable Mara Hvistendahl lays out the case of Robert Mo, featuring Iowan farmer Kevin Montgomery, FBI agent Mark Betten, and the her own interviews, painting a complex picture of the government’s years-long case meant to send a message to the Chinese Communist Party about economic espionage. As the facts unfold, the author excellently describes early US national security apparatus efforts to stem the loss of “intellectual” property that became reductivist and xenophobic campaigns which singled out Americans of Chinese descent for draconian surveillance & ignoble, flimsy prosecutions. As the case progresses against the backdrop of worsening US-PRC relations in former US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad’s home state, she captures the nuances of globe-spanning geopolitical conflicts that descend from the heavens like those pee spears that fall out of airplane lavatory tanks, freezing into sharp lances as they fall towards the earth. The consequences of decades of US corporations multinationalization, the ever-thornier IP laws authored almost verbatim by neofeudal corporations like Disney, and the divide between an America high on its own supply of scientific progress and an ascendant “revanchist” China vilified by a White House that couldn’t name more than a dynasty or two, let alone describe “united front work” or the many benefits of bringing the next generation of global scientists and engineers to liberal Western universities, all crystallize into rough consequences for a single man but not much more. Certainly, by the end of this excellent title, the reader will wonder what effect of any the prosecution of Robert Mo had on the transfer of intellectual property abroad. To editorialize, this book left me meditating on the benefits of global enterprise. Is GitHub transferring IP to malicious foreign actors, or is it seeding innovation? Are Western universities handing over our trade secrets, or are we making a fair trade for foreign labor and intellectual contributions while simultaneously exposing future leaders from brutal autocracies to (hopefully) fair, open, and free liberal democracy? If we slice the world along some new axis, some new Iron Curtain between Washington and Beijing, are we not giving up on inspiring 1.3 billion folks, no different in Hunan than Nebraska, to rise up and throw off the yoke of the CCP’s utilitarian oligarchy? And most importantly, as we barrel headlong towards a changed climate, is this the best usage of our resources?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Finished, 5/10/2020 Author Mara Hvistendahl writes about a case of agricultural industrial espionage in her book "The Scientist and the Spy". A representatives of a Chinese seed company, Dr. Robert Mo, living and working in Florida, was tasked with obtaining samples of genetically modified seeds from corn fields in the midwest in order to allow the Chinese to reverse engineer the highly productive and disease resistant seeds produced by U.S. agricultural giants like Monsanto and DuPont. These Finished, 5/10/2020 Author Mara Hvistendahl writes about a case of agricultural industrial espionage in her book "The Scientist and the Spy". A representatives of a Chinese seed company, Dr. Robert Mo, living and working in Florida, was tasked with obtaining samples of genetically modified seeds from corn fields in the midwest in order to allow the Chinese to reverse engineer the highly productive and disease resistant seeds produced by U.S. agricultural giants like Monsanto and DuPont. These seeds were developed after years of work, at the cost of millions of dollars, and the Chinese were trying to gain the technology quickly and cheaply. Suspicion was raised when Chinese scientists, clearly out of place, were noticed crawling through Iowa corn fields. Eventually, the FBI got involved, investigating what appeared to be the theft of intellectual properties and trade secrets, and spent a couple of years tracking the suspects to make a criminal case against them. In addition to learning a few tid-bits about seed breeding, the author also shows how time consuming FBI investigations can become, and how long it can take to obtain an arrest warrant and conviction. There seemed to be a bit of a disconnect in the book however. After making the case that the Chinese agricultural company worked hard to steal U.S. technology, planting the seed in the reader's mind that this is hardly an unusual practice by the Chinese government and companies, the author goes out of her way to then point out how Chinese scientists working in the U.S. are too often racially profiled and suspected of trying to steal company secrets. I was left with the feeling that the author was questioning whether the arrest and conviction of Chinese scientist Dr. Robert Mo was only made because of his nationality, and not because of his illegal activities. That's certainly not a conclusion I had reached.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt Conger

    I never thought I'd read a book that had "corn sex" and "China" just a few sentences apart. The author tells a story that is quite simple. Beyond going through the narrative, she uses it to talk more broadly about US-China relations. I admit it was quite a switcharoo. From the cover and subtitle, I expected cloak-and-dagger spy games. It ends up being more about institutionalism racism and national identity than spying. But that's a good thing. This book gives voice (and statistics) to the I never thought I'd read a book that had "corn sex" and "China" just a few sentences apart. The author tells a story that is quite simple. Beyond going through the narrative, she uses it to talk more broadly about US-China relations. I admit it was quite a switcharoo. From the cover and subtitle, I expected cloak-and-dagger spy games. It ends up being more about institutionalism racism and national identity than spying. But that's a good thing. This book gives voice (and statistics) to the uncomfortable nature of selling secrets. It also gives voice (but fewer statistics) to the racial profiling and prejudices that America has against Chinese nationals and ethnically Chinese Americans. Indeed, it was quite sad to finish reading this book on July 4th. I was ashamed at how Americans treated the Chinese characters in this story. An FBI agent notes with suspicion that collusion is happening because two native Chinese speakers opt to speak in Chinese during a private conversation. The horror! I lived in China around the same time as the author. So I felt a similar degree of fish-out-of-water but privileged existence while in China. And I felt a similar degree of shock when returning to the US to be confronted with anti-China sentiment. Her prose describing these two scenarios was more well-written than anything I could have written had I kept a journal! Nonetheless, I'm still ending up with 4 stars because I thought the story is ultimately run-of-the-mill. In the pantheon of stories about industrial espionage involving China, this one feels relatively mundane (corn sex aside). This book is written from the perspective of an after-the-fact reporting rather than from the perspective of the investigative journalist who broke the story. I don't fault the author at all for that. But the distant nature of the reporting + the humdrum industry holds this back from a 5-star rating.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Haoyan Do

    It's really like what Kevin said that Robert Mo is doing such a stupid thing. Criminals usually don't think as normal people do. I really feel very sorry for Robert. He should just take a stand, and refuse to do any illegal activities from the very beginning. His sister would still help him to get a position, probably not making as much money though. It's so weird that he would go to Iowa to dig corns illegally. Just to think about this image makes me feel sad and even sick. The book has a lot It's really like what Kevin said that Robert Mo is doing such a stupid thing. Criminals usually don't think as normal people do. I really feel very sorry for Robert. He should just take a stand, and refuse to do any illegal activities from the very beginning. His sister would still help him to get a position, probably not making as much money though. It's so weird that he would go to Iowa to dig corns illegally. Just to think about this image makes me feel sad and even sick. The book has a lot of great details and did a good job describing everything, except that it should describe the biological process of corn seed more. I think most of the readers are like me, with no knowledge how corns grow, mate, change etc. Without such a basic knowledge, it is bewildering when one encounter terminologies like "reverse engineering", seeds, male and female. It is logic defying to know that he still wants to steal when he can do reverse engineering on legal seeds. Also it is puzzling that why can't Robert just go to a super market and buy some corn there, how he could know where to dig in Iowa, giving the fact there are endless acres of corns there. Being an Asian is not an easy thing in this century, last century, and the century before it, no matter where we live, in Asia or in America. We are facing much stricter scrutiny, harsher punishment, hard to break bamboo ceiling, and a lot of other difficulties. I wish all the Asians will start to think about issues of justice, equality, fairness, community more. I wish we are not just another selfish dreamer to climb the social ladder, to complain those first world complaints. I hope we understand our historical burden and our duty to fight for a better world.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kimberlee (reading.wanderwoman)

    The Scientist And The Spy by Mara Hvistendahl. Thank you again so much Riverhead books for this amazing bookmail I decided to combo read/listen with Librofm and what a wild ride. Multiple (y)ears long FBI investigation (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself) stemming from Chinese man Robert Mo an employee of DBN, a Chinese agricultural company, wandering the cornfields of Iowa looking to steal corn seeds (illegally) for trade secrets on properties growing corn for the largest producers in the world The Scientist And The Spy by Mara Hvistendahl. Thank you again so much Riverhead books for this amazing bookmail I decided to combo read/listen with Librofm and what a wild ride. Multiple (y)ears long FBI investigation (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself) stemming from Chinese man Robert Mo an employee of DBN, a Chinese agricultural company, wandering the cornfields of Iowa looking to steal corn seeds (illegally) for trade secrets on properties growing corn for the largest producers in the world Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. There are so many moving parts to this book and not only that there is so much to learn that I had no idea about and I was fascinated. Some of my takeaways albeit a little naive due to my lack of knowledge are.... (Y)Ears and (y)ears of investigation (there it is again) and extravagant amounts of money and tax dollars over corn seeds. I'm not saying it's not important because it is and this is peoples especially farmers hard work being stolen. But at the same time I think about how a food shortage isn't just going to be a U.S. problem or a China problem, but a world problem. Here's my naive 'why can't we all just get along' thought..... But really, why not? Instead of spending (wasting) all that time, money and energy, both parties could have made it a simple sharing of ideas and working together to grow new ideas. Why not legally, kindly and figuratively knock on someone's door? Set up a phone call? Send an email? Talk about what's needed and its importance? Another takeaway (although it's already wildly known) is how the government and FBI and secret agents are literally everywhere. They can follow your every move and conversation they can intercept your mail, take you from a flight in the airport and more. All with a simple piece of paper called a warrant. I also learned how unique and incredible the agricultural sciences are and how they have the ability to grow and take us further into the future. Anyway, such a unique book. I definitely recommend it!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    The premise of this book sounds boring: a Chinese middle manager for an agricultural company steals some corn seed out of some fields in Iowa and gets imprisoned for industrial espionage. However, the book was actually interesting. The author did a fine job of weaving in related topics that were very intriguing. From how mega-corporations use post-9/11 governmental agencies to get the taxpayers to take care of their court costs in the name of national security to the distrust you get from being The premise of this book sounds boring: a Chinese middle manager for an agricultural company steals some corn seed out of some fields in Iowa and gets imprisoned for industrial espionage. However, the book was actually interesting. The author did a fine job of weaving in related topics that were very intriguing. From how mega-corporations use post-9/11 governmental agencies to get the taxpayers to take care of their court costs in the name of national security to the distrust you get from being Chinese in the USA in the current political scene (Robert Mo was actually spying, but many scientists lost their careers only to have spying charges dropped) to the weird history of soybeans originating in China with the world getting it for free and now China buying American soy and then tariffs bankrupting American farmers when China finds another supplier leading to a bailout larger than the General Motors bailout with most of the money going to huge ag companies (some small farmers got $5.00 USD). Well done nonfiction, not so much fiction-like, but just complicated grey area type stuff. Thanks to the publisher for this book. Oh and if you are interested in a spoiler then here it is. After the clumsy Chinese attempt to get themselves some Monsanto/Bayer and DuPont/Dow product (and isn't it weird that life forms can be patented?), they wised up and just had a Chinese mega-ag company buy a European mega-ag company with GMO seed. Oh wait, Monsanto isn't even American anymore since Bayer is German. So I suppose they will say Danke for our service.

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