A 38-year-old Stanford University researcher has been arrested by federal authorities for allegedly failing to disclose that she was actively working for the Chinese military on her visa application, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week.
Chen Song, a Chinese national, faces a fraud charge for allegedly lying on her J1 nonimmigrant visa submitted in November 2018; she entered the U.S. the following month. She stated on her visa application that she served in the Chinese military from Sept. 1, 2000 through June 30, 2011 in response to a question about whether she had ever served in the military. She also said she was employed by Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, according to the Department of Justice.
Song said she was a neurologist who was planning to conduct research on brain disease at Stanford, prosecutors said. A Stanford professor whose lab she worked at told investigators that Song is an expert in myasthenia gravis, according to the federal complaint.
Investigators claim she was a member of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) when she entered the U.S. and the Xi Diaoyutai Hospital was a cover for her true employer, the PLA. A federal court affidavit states that her resume to Stanford shows she co-authored four research articles that indicated her affiliation with institutions that are subordinate to the PLA Air Force. Based on the articles, Song also has ties with the Air Force General Hospital in Beijing and the Fourth Military Medical University (FMMU), the affidavit states.
As of July 13, a Chinese health care website listed Song as an attending physician of the Department of Neurology at the PLA Air Force General Hospital. It included a photograph of Song wearing what appears to be a military uniform. A 2015 article identifies her as the doctor at the PLA Air Force hospital who performed an autopsy on the former chief physician of the facility's Magnetic Resonance Imaging Department.
Through a search warrant, investigators also found that Song allegedly deleted a folder on June 21 from her computer external hard drive titled "2018 Visiting School Important Information." Among the recovered documents, investigators found a letter from Song to the Chinese Consulate in New York. Song said she was extending her time in the U.S. for another year, and allegedly wrote that her stated employer, Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, was a false front, which is why she had obtained approval for her extension from the PLA Air Force and FMMU.
The letter further allegedly explained that Chinese military approval documents were classified and she could not transmit them online, the DOJ said.
U.S. federal authorities arrested her on July 18. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Three others have also been charged with visa fraud: Xin Wang, who stated he came to the U.S. to conduct scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He is accused of failing to reveal that he is an army major and currently works as a "Level 9" technician in the PLA, employed by a military university lab. He allegedly was instructed by his superiors to study the layout of the UCSF lab and bring back information on how to replicate it in China and duplicated some of his supervising UCSF professor's work in China. He was arrested on June 7.
Prosecutors also filed charges against Juan Tang, a researcher at the University of California, Davis who is allegedly a uniformed officer of the PLA Air Force and worked for the Air Force Military Medical University. She has fled to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco where she has diplomatic protection.
Kaikai Zhao, a graduate student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University, served in the National University of Defense Technology, the PLA's premier institution for scientific research and education, which is directly under China's Central Military Commission, prosecutors said. Zhao also attended the Aviation University of Air Force, a Chinese military academy analogous to the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to the DOJ. Zhao was arrested on July 18.
The FBI also recently conducted interviews with visa holders suspected of having undeclared affiliation with the Chinese military in more than 25 American cities, according to the DOJ.
"This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party's plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions. We will continue to conduct this investigation together with the FBI," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in the DOJ statement issued July 20.
John Brown, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, said the U.S. welcomes students, academics, and researchers from across the globe.
"(This) announcement shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to infiltrate and exploit America's benevolence," he said in the statement.