CSIS warns of Chinese recruitment campaign targeting Canadian government employees

Politics

Canada’s spy agency is warning of a Chinese plot to recruit Canadian government officials and academics.

Spy agency says PRC talent programs can lead to loss of proprietary and sensitive information

Catharine Tunney · CBC News

· Posted: Nov 24, 2023 5:36 PM EST | Last Updated: November 24, 2023

CSIS is warning federal government employees of a recruitment effort launched by China. (Thomas Peter/Reuters) Canada’s spy agency is warning of a Chinese plot to recruit Canadian government officials and academics.

In an alert sent to federal employees earlier this month and seen by CBC News, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warns of a large-scale email campaign trying to lure workers into an overseas talent program.

“The [People’s Republic of China] is likely using this recruitment campaign to acquire Canadian knowledge and expertise,” says the alert.

“These types of talent recruitment and technology transfer initiatives can result in the misappropriation of government of Canada resources and the loss of proprietary and sensitive information.”

The alert includes a photo of the recruitment email, which uses the subject line “2024 invitation for overseas talents to apply for the Global Excellent Scientists Fund in China.”

The email asks for “significant” personal information, said CSIS, and promises salaries ranging from $95,000 to $374,000.

The security alert says the Chinese Communist Party leverages such initiatives to support espionage and foreign interference activities.

“These policies and plans aim to exploit the collaborative, transparent and open nature of Canada’s research and innovation sector to serve PRC’s economic, security and military interests,” said CSIS.

China running more than 200 talent programs  CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam said the alert was sent to all federal government departments through their security officers, with instructions to make employees aware.

He said he could not state whether any Canadian government employees have applied to the talent program. 

CSIS said there are more than 200 Chinese “talent recruitment programmes” over which Beijing exerts “exceptional levels of control.”

The CSIS headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press) According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Beijing’s talent programs bring outside knowledge to China — “and sometimes that means stealing trade secrets, breaking export control laws, or violating conflict-of-interest policies to do so.”

Participants enter a contract that usually requires them to subject themselves to Chinese laws, share new technology developments or breakthroughs only with China and recruit other experts into the program — often their own colleagues, said the FBI.

“These programs present a substantial challenge in balancing academic and professional collaboration vis-a-vis national security risks,” said the CSIS warning.

The Canadian intelligence agency also posted on social media this week warning academics and researchers to be suspicious of offers of well-paying placements or collaboration opportunities, but didn’t mention the China connection. 

In recent years, CSIS has become increasingly open about its warnings regarding research security.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC’s Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

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