Home News Stories 2014 April Students Abroad Warned of Foreign Intelligence Threat Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Foreign Intelligence Service Targeting of U.S. Students Overseas
Frequently Asked Questions

Why are foreign intelligence services targeting U.S. students overseas?

Foreign intelligence services are targeting U.S. students overseas in an effort to identify students who can help them gain access to information, persons, and venues of intelligence interest—either immediately or in the future. The services target students specifically because they perceive students to represent relatively vulnerable targets who lack extensive world experience or exposure to counterintelligence matters. These intelligence services also assess that U.S. students abroad represent likely candidates for future U.S. government employment based on the valuable exposure to foreign cultures and languages that these students obtain through overseas study.

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Why is the FBI seeking to educate the public about this threat?

The mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the U.S. and its citizens against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, as well as to uphold and enforce U.S. criminal laws. By educating vulnerable populations, such as U.S. students, about foreign intelligence threats they may face while overseas, the FBI seeks to fulfill its mission to protect and defend its citizens’ safety, security, and future career prospects. The FBI would like every U.S. student planning to travel abroad to view the “Game of Pawns” movie—available for viewing on the FBI’s public website—before the trip.

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What is the scope of this threat?

Foreign intelligence services worldwide target U.S. students overseas with the goal of recruiting them to provide access to information or persons of intelligence value in the future. While some countries’ intelligence services tend to target students more aggressively than others, no single country is responsible for the entirety of this targeting. Students are advised to be aware of this threat no matter what country they travel to.

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Why are foreign intelligences services targeting U.S. students who have no access to sensitive information?

Based on the Glenn Duffie Shriver case and intelligence reporting, the FBI has learned that foreign intelligence services are strategically and systematically targeting U.S. students because of the future access that these students may be able to provide through their jobs, career fields, and associates. By establishing relationships with students before they have this access, the foreign services seek to create future opportunities to obtain information and contacts of intelligence value. Foreign intelligence services are often willing to wait a long time, even years, to exploit these relationships.

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How do foreign intelligence services engage with U.S. students?

In many cases, foreign intelligence officers do not openly affiliate with their intelligence services when developing relationships with students. Foreign intelligence operatives typically use seemingly innocuous social, academic, or work-related pretexts—such as job or internship opportunities, paid paper-writing engagements, language exchanges, and cultural immersion programs—to engage with U.S. students. In many cases, these intelligence officers provide the students with payments and offer the students opportunities while receiving apparently little of tangible value in return. Foreign intelligence operatives also organize social gatherings for U.S. students—which often include complimentary food and drink—to establish more informal, less alerting relationships with students.

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How can students identify and protect themselves from foreign intelligence service targeting?

Identifying foreign intelligence service targeting can be difficult, as foreign intelligence officers do not openly affiliate with their intelligence services when developing relationships with students. Students should be skeptical of opportunities that seem “to good to be true” and be cautious of accepting free favors and “money-for-nothing” deals. As a good rule of thumb, students should remain cautious when giving out personal information, particularly via Internet-based social media applications. Students should report payments received while abroad on tax and other financial disclosure forms to ensure compliance with U.S. law.

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Does overseas study hurt students’ prospective chances of obtaining U.S. government employment?

The U.S. government encourages U.S. students to learn about foreign countries, customs, and cultures and to gain specialized linguistic, technical, and leadership skills by traveling and studying overseas. In fact, in many cases, the U.S. government proactively hires individuals who have insights and skill sets derived through their overseas experiences. By better informing students about foreign intelligence issues they might confront while abroad, the FBI seeks to ensure that students can maximize the career-related benefits of study abroad while minimizing any potential of inadvertently compromising future employability through unwitting action or association.

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Is the FBI coordinating with other U.S. government agencies about this threat?

The FBI is working closely with its U.S. government partners to address and mitigate this threat. Likewise, the FBI is engaging with its academic and business partners to ensure that its message reaches as many U.S. students as possible prior to overseas travel to ensure that these students stay safe while abroad.

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How can students report suspicious activity?

To report suspicious activity, students should contact their local FBI field office upon return to the United States. Students can also report suspicious activity while abroad to their closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s regional security officer. Students should remember that there are no negative repercussions for reporting suspicious activity—the FBI’s primary goal and interest is to protect U.S. students and to ensure that they do not become involved unwittingly with individuals or activities that might create problems for them in the future.

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In the “Game of Pawns” movie, what actions depicted Glenn Duffie Shriver “crossing the line?”

  • He failed to question Mr. Tang and Amanda about the source of the funds that they gave to him.
  • He asked for and accepted $40,000 in exchange for his applying to the CIA.
  • He smuggled $40,000 into the United States without disclosing the money to U.S. authorities as required by U.S. law.
  • He lied on his immigration paperwork—an official U.S. government document—confirming that he was bringing less than $10,000 into the U.S.
  • He provided Mr. Tang and Amanda with specific information about the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service exam, despite having signed a non-disclosure agreement forbidding him from doing so.
  • He continued to interact with Mr. Tang and Amanda after they explicitly told him that they wanted him to acquire “secrets or classified information” and share it with them.
  • He lied on his government application and CIA polygraph about acting on behalf of a foreign power and about receiving money from a foreign government.
  • He developed a relationship with three Chinese intelligence service officers and, at their request, agreed to apply for positions in U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement organizations for the purpose of obtaining access to classified national security information in exchange for cash payments.

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As depicted in the Game of Pawns movie, what were the legal consequences of Glenn Duffie Shriver’s actions?

As a result of his illegal activities, Shriver pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it and received a sentence of 48 months in prison.

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As depicted in the Game of Pawns movie, what should Glenn Duffie Shriver have done to stay out of trouble?

Shriver should have reported his Chinese government interactions and payments to the U.S. government when his Chinese contacts started specifically tasking him to obtain U.S. government employment in exchange for money. Specifically, Shriver should have reported these interactions and payments to his closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s regional security officer while overseas, as well as to his local FBI field office upon his return to the United States.

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Foreign Intelligence Threat

To help raise awareness of the foreign intelligence recruitment threat to U.S. college students while studying overseas, the FBI offers a variety of useful resources, including the below interview with a former student caught up in illegal activity.




More Information:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. State Department’s Students Abroad Website
- FBI Counterintelligence Program
- Press Release