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

Riverhead. Feb. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780735214286. $28. CRIME
In 2011, three Chinese scientists were apprehended in a cornfield in Iowa, suspected of stealing genetically modified seeds. This encounter was the catalyst for Hvistendahl’s (Unnatural Selection) compelling tale of industrial espionage. A Midwest native, Hvistendahl spent several years working in China, and her knowledge of that country’s politics and economics adds depth to the narrative. Hvistendahl centers on Robert Mo, a Chinese scholar working in the United States, following him from a failed academic career to his employment by DBN, a Chinese agricultural company. He also becomes the focus of a two-year investigation by the FBI. Some of those FBI agents are profiled in the book, as are Mo’s sister and the judge who sentenced Mo. Hvistendahl writes about broader issues with force and clarity: an overview of China’s intelligence agencies, the use and misuse of the FISA law, and anti-Chinese persecution by the FBI. She brings the story up to the present day with a brief discussion of the U.S.-China trade war and the impact of tariffs. An informative afterword explains her sources.
VERDICT This engaging book has something for everyone; it can be read as a spy thriller, an examination of U.S.-China relations, or a case study of agricultural espionage.

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