National Security Threat: CCP’s Bio and Pharma Espionage in the US

National Security Threat: CCP’s Bio and Pharma Espionage in the US
A lab technician works at a laboratory in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei Province, on Feb. 6, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Antonio Graceffo
A research lab employee and others, including an unspecified number of students at the University of Florida (UF), were implicated in an alleged multimillion-dollar scheme to illegally ship dangerous drugs and toxins to China, UF’s student news service reported.
The ringleader, a 51-year-old Florida resident unaffiliated with the university, has pleaded guilty to working with the other suspects to take possession of the materials ordered using the university’s system at steep discounts and shipping them to China, according to a May 22 U.S. Justice Department press release.
According to a court document, the man is alleged to have falsely represented that he and others were affiliated with research being conducted in a lab at UF in order to fraudulently place orders through the university stockroom. Among the items obtained in this manner were cholera toxin and pertussis toxin, the latter of which causes whooping cough.
According to UF’s publication WUFT, one of the students accused was the president of UF’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association, an organization overseen by the United Front Work Department, the primary foreign interference tool of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The student association earlier this year protested a 2023 state law that restricts the ability of Florida’s public universities and colleges to hire researchers and graduate assistants from China, calling the law “nationality-based discrimination.” The law mandates approval by the board that oversees Florida’s state university system before any such partnership or agreement can go ahead.

The alleged scheme was uncovered when the American company selling the materials to the university became suspicious of the orders and reported its concerns to the authorities.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco noted in the press release the importance of private companies’ efforts to monitor and report suspicious activity by foreign entities.

“As national security and corporate crime increasingly intersect, companies that step up and own up under the Department’s voluntary self-disclosure programs can help themselves and our nation,” she said.
The CCP’s move toward military-civil fusion by merging the military and pharmaceutical tech sectors has raised particular and growing concerns. According to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, “As the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) becomes more ingrained in the biotechnology sector, it becomes increasingly clear that the CCP seeks to weaponize genomic and medical data.”
The CCP’s industrial espionage in various forms has been pervasive, including spying and theft that target the U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
In 2022, cybersecurity firm Cybereason uncovered an attack that it dubbed Operation CuckooBees, a massive multi-year cyber espionage campaign assessed to be the work of the Chinese state-sponsored hacking group Winnti APT, also known as APT 41. The group targeted technology and manufacturing companies in North America, Europe, and Asia and managed to steal an estimated hundreds of gigabytes of information, including intellectual property and sensitive data.
The CCP has been stealing biological samples, biodata, and drug formulas, as well as setting up labs and using researchers and graduate students for espionage. In response, two bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress: the BIOSECURE Act and the Prohibiting Foreign Access to American Genetic Information Act of 2024.

The BIOSECURE Act focuses on preventing foreign biotech companies of concern from participating in federally funded activities.

The act prohibiting foreign access would ban all biotechnology companies “owned or controlled by a foreign adversary’s government, such as the Chinese Communist Party,” from receiving U.S. federal contracts, grants, and loans.

Among the companies targeted by both bills is BGI Group, which describes itself as “one of the world’s leading life science and genomics organizations.” According to Rep. Mike Gallagher, Chair of the House Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, BGI has been gathering genetic data of Americans for years. A number of the company’s subsidiaries have been blacklisted by the U.S. government and are on the U.S. Entity List, deemed as organizations of national security concern.
The broad and unrelenting national security threat posed by CCP espionage activities is well documented. Political correctness often hinders proper vetting, investigation, and prosecution. Besides China, the Florida law extends to other countries of concern, specifically Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. This is not racism; it is a response to reality. These countries are listed in the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community as primary espionage threats to the United States.
In response to this ongoing threat, the Committee on Oversight and Accountability is investigating the CCP over concerns that its influence operations, including those over global pharmaceutical supply chains, constitute political and economic warfare against the United States.
The committee sent letters in May to various U.S. government bodies requesting information on how they are combatting the threats and tactics of the CCP. These include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Energy, State Department, FBI, and National Institutes of Health. These departments and agencies are prime targets for CCP espionage and must take extra precautions.

This was the second round of letters sent that stressed the need to protect America’s biological supply chain from the CCP. The government bodies that received letters from the committee in March included the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The letter to the FDA emphasizes that the federal agency has a duty to identify and help address the Chinese regime’s efforts to “further dominate the pharmaceutical market and monopolize data collection to the detriment of Americans.”

It refers to China’s strict national security laws that obligate citizens and companies to turn over data to the Ministry of State Security and other CCP entities upon request. These include the National Security Law, National Intelligence Law, and Counter-Espionage Law. This alone justifies subjecting Chinese citizens and companies to greater scrutiny than those from nations that do not pose a threat to U.S. national security.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, is a China economic analyst who has spent more than 20 years in Asia. Mr. Graceffo is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport, holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and currently studies national defense at American Military University. He is the author of “Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion” (2019).
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