“Spy Schools” author breaks down how intelligence agencies exploit colleges

To many, the work of spies takes place in foreign embassies, far-away capitals and other exotic locales, but author Daniel Golden found it’s happening on college campuses here in the U.S.

Golden, who won a Pulitzer prize for his Wall Street Journal series exposing the admissions preferences at elite colleges, has a new book called “Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities” that details how foreign and domestic intelligence services have turned institutes of higher learning into the front lines of international espionage.

Golden joined “CBS This Morning: Saturday” to discuss how he stumbled across the practice in the first place

“I wrote an article a couple of years ago about a professor at the University of South Florida, born in China but a U.S. citizen, whom the FBI was trying to pressure to spy on China, and I thought this was very unusual, but as I looked into it, it turned out to be quite commonplace,” Golden said.

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According to Golden, globalization has created a “spy versus spy situation” on campuses where there are a lot of foreign students, visiting scholars and researchers.

“Some of them are looking to poach research or recruit people and at the same time the CIA and FBI are using all kinds of tactics to recruit those same foreigners and send them home as our agents,” he said. “Both sides are kind of exploiting universities and using the professors and students as pawns.”

Golden says part of the reason colleges are targeted is because they are typically open and transparent places.

“Young people, students and graduate students, that’s an impressionable age. They can be easily wooed. So it’s kind of an attractive, low-risk thing,” he said.

Golden says he thinks universities are aware this is happening, but they tend to “turn a blind eye” for a number of reasons.  

“Foreign students provide a lot of revenue. The [universities] have a lot of contracts with the government, with the intelligence agencies and military, so they don’t want to push back too much there. And they’re all looking to be international and open foreign branches that can be quite lucrative, too,” he said.

In his book, Golden tells the story of a Michigan student named Glenn Shriver who became somewhat of a cautionary tale.

“[He] went on a study abroad program to China and eventually China recruited him soon after he graduated and paid him to try and penetrate the CIA and he was caught and convicted. What’s interesting about him is that he was sort of a typical young American,” he said.

Last month, Harvard University rescinded a fellowship invitation to Chelsea Manning, the transgender former soldier convicted of giving classified information to WikiLeaks. The decision came after CIA Director Mike Pompeo canceled a campus speaking event and former acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned a university post over the invitation.

“The Kennedy School at Harvard in particular has a whole web of entanglements with the CIA and so they can’t afford to alienate these intelligence agencies. In my book I uncover one particular aspect which is that there’s a long line of CIA agents or officers have gone to the Kennedy School undercover, using their foreign cover as sort of State Department diplomats. The programs they’re in are predominantly foreign, foreign businesspeople, future foreign government leaders and so they get a chance to cultivate kind of these unsuspecting classmates,” Golden said. 

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