A researcher at Stanford University has been indicted on U.S. charges of lying and destroying evidence of her status as a member of the Chinese military.
Song Chen, a 39-year-old visiting medical researcher at the university, was charged last July with lying on a visa application about her membership in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). On Feb. 18, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging her with visa fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of documents, and lying to federal investigators.
Song’s 2018 visa application said she was a neurologist coming to Stanford to conduct research related to brain disease. She disclosed that she had served in the Chinese military from September 2000 to June 2011, and that her current employer was a Beijing hospital named “Xi Diaoyutai.” Prosecutors said this was actually a cover for Song’s real employer, the PLA Air Force General Hospital in Beijing.
“We allege that while Chen Song worked as a researcher at Stanford University, she was secretly a member of China’s military,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California said in a statement.
Prosecutors said online searches turned up research papers showing Song’s affiliation to the hospital, webpages listing her employment there, and a photo of Song in military uniform.
FBI agent Craig Fair said the investigation also found that Song “took active steps to destroy evidence of her official affiliation with the Chinese military, including her current PLA credentials depicting her in military dress uniform.”
The indictment said that after Song found out about the arrest of another alleged undercover Chinese military officer in early June 2020, she tried to delete a folder of documents on an external hard drive pertaining to her military service and visa fraud. This included an image of her PLA credentials from July 2016 to July 2020, which contained a photo of Song in military uniform and a copy of her resume that listed her employer as the Air Force General Hospital, the court paper said.
It also included a letter from Song to the Chinese Consulate in New York, where she wrote that her employer “Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” was a false front. It also stated that she had obtained approval from the PLA Air Force to extend her stay in the United States. The approval was classified so she couldn’t send the documents via email, the indictment said.
Prosecutors said Song lied about her current affiliation with the PLA when questioned by the FBI in July 2020. After Song learned of the FBI’s interest in her, information that connected Song to the PLA or the Air Force General Hospital began to disappear from the internet, according to prosecutors.
Song also selectively deleted emails from a Hotmail account that contained details of her military service, employment, and affiliations after she was charged last year, the indictment said.
Song is due to next appear in court on April 7 for a pretrial conference, with trial set to begin April 12. If found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for visa fraud; up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the obstruction and alteration charges; and up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the false statements charge.
The accused is among six researchers targeted by federal prosecutors last year for allegedly lying about their ties to the Chinese military in their visa applications, according to the Department of Justice. In one case, the DOJ alleged that a PLA officer was tasked by supervisors in China to obtain information that would benefit military operations. In another, prosecutors accused a PLA medical researcher of observing lab operations at a U.S. university so they could be replicated in China.
The investigations into these researchers have led to more than 1,000 military-linked researchers leaving the United States last year, according to a senior Justice Department official.