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Of double-naught spies, international espionage and corn seed

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In two separate cases recently, Chinese have been charged with stealing U.S. seed techonology.

All of the ingredients are there for a first-rate spy novel, so much so that Ian Fleming might have dreamed up similar plot devices in one of his ever-popular James Bond novels. But it’s not 007 against an evil-genius villain – it’s U.S. federal law enforcement officials against Chinese seed thieves.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it’s common knowledge that U.S. agriculture is the envy of the world, and perhaps thievery is the sincerest form of flattery. Whatever the motivation, it appears that our friends from the People’s Republic want our seed technology so bad they’re willing to risk prison to get it.

In not one but two cases recently, federal prosecutors arrested citizens of China and charged them with stealing seeds – the kind of seeds for which you dearly pay technology fees and the kind of seeds that companies here in America consider intellectual property.

In the first of the two unrelated cases of seed espionage, an executive working for a Chinese conglomerate was arrested for allegedly stealing corn seed from experimental production fields in Iowa and Illinois and attempting to smuggle it into China.

Court records state that the FBI caught Chinese national Mo Hailong (not to be confused with Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame) by using GPS surveillance and by planting listening devices in cars that he and “unnamed conspirators” drove on rural roads. These conspirators or corporate insiders apparently were double-agents, working for both the Chinese and U.S. companies.

And that’s not the best part. After apprehending Mo in a test seed field, agents found ears of corn stashed in an Illinois self-storage unit, dozens of bags of corn kernels stuffed under the seat of a car, and hundreds of pictures of corn fields and production facilities. You can’t make this up, not even if you tried.

In the other case, which isn’t nearly as interesting , two agricultural scientists from China were charged with trying to steal samples of a variety of seeds from a biopharmaceutical company's research facility. The stolen seeds were reportedly found in the luggage of a group of visitors from China who were on their home after a visit in Kansas.

International intrigue, insiders playing both sides of the fence, bungling crooks…it’s all there. If someone isn’t already working on a movie script for these escapades, they certainly should be. I’d pay to see it.

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