Zoom Event

June 18, 2020

10:00 - 11:30am

The Scientist and the Spy:

China, The FBI and the US-China Technological Battle

Sponsored by 

San Diego World Affairs Council

Orange County World Affairs Council

World Affairs Council Inland Southern California


Mara Hvistendahl

Politzer Prize Finalist

    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 mens' rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country—all in the name of protecting the trade secrets of Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. Industrial espionage by Chinese companies is a catalyst for the US' recent trade war with China and one of the top counterintelligence targets of the FBI. Efforts to stem the problem have been largely ineffective.

    Mara Hvistendahl spent four years researching this unusually far-reaching investigation. Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, she describes a history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions whether criminal prosecutions are the best way to address trade secrets theft and protect innovation in America. Ms. Hvistendahl will discuss science, espionage, and rising tensions in U.S.-China relations.


    Mara Hvistendahl is the author of the book The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage, which The Washington Post called a “riveting whodunit.” Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Popular Science, and WIRED. For eight years, she reported from Shanghai, where she was the China bureau chief for Science, covering China's renaissance in science & technologyMara’s first book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is proficient in Mandarin, is a former National Fellow at New America, and currently resides in Minneapolis.

    Please see our SDWAC website "Upcoming Events" for scheduled online Zoom presentations.

    *Please note that the viewpoints expressed by speakers at SDWAC events are their own, and do not necessarily represent those of SDWAC. As a nonpartisan organization, SDWAC seeks to engage speakers who, together, represent a variety of viewpoints across the political spectrum in order to contribute to informed policy discussion and a meaningful exchange of ideas within the San Diego community. 

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