Justice Department charges visiting Stanford researcher with lying about ties to Chinese military

Song Chen is accused of lying on visa forms about her affiliation with Chinese military institutions when applying to come to the U.S.
Image: Stanford University campus
Hoover Tower at Stanford University in Stanford, California on March 7, 2020.Yichuan Cao / Sipa USA via AP file

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By Phil Helsel and Andrew Blankstein

A Chinese woman living in the United States as a visiting researcher at Stanford University has been charged with lying about her ties to the Chinese military, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Song Chen, 38, is accused of obtaining a visa by material false statements, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California said in a statement.

She was arrested over the weekend and in federal custody Monday night, a spokesman for the office said. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday that will deal with detention issues.

Song is not accused of stealing or sending any materials to China, but she is accused of lying on visa forms in 2018 to apply to go to Stanford as a neurologist.

Court documents say Song answered that she had been in the Chinese military from September 2000 to June 2011, and that she worked at "Xi Diaoyutai Hospital" in Beijing.

Federal prosecutors say those were lies, and that was a member of the People’s Liberation Army when she entered the U.S. in 2018 and when she was here.

They say that the hospital she claimed to work for "was a cover for her true employer, the PLA."

A criminal complaint says Song is employed by a Chinese air force hospital and maintained her affiliation after 2011. Investigators think she is part of a " civilian cadre," whose members are considered active duty military.

The case was sealed in online records Monday. A phone message to an attorney who represented her in court Monday was not immediately returned Monday evening.

A representative for Stanford declined to comment.

An FBI agent who wrote an affidavit in the case wrote that in an interview this month, Song "repeatedly and adamantly denied" any current affiliation with the People's Liberation Army Air Force or the Chinese military or Fourth Military Medical University.

She said, according to the affidavit, that after graduating from Fourth Military Medical University, which is described as a PLA Air Force university, she disassociated from the Chinese military.

But prosecutors said that research articles showed her affiliation with institutions under the air force, and that investigators who searched her computer recovered a deleted document of a letter to the Chinese consulate in New York.

Song allegedly "wrote that her stated employer, Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, is a false front," according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The FBI agent who wrote the affidavit in the criminal complaint wrote that the recovered letter "provides further evidence that Song works for the PLA and was here on its behalf."

Song is an expert in myasthenia gravis, a rare disorder that causes muscle weakness. A Stanford professor told an investigator that Song's research benefitted the work in his lab, according to the affidavit.

The charge of obtaining a visa by material false statements is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Song is only charged with lying in visa forms.

But FBI Director Chris Wray said at an event earlier this month that that nearly half of the FBI's 5,000 active counterintelligence cases relate to China.

In June, another Chinese national who is alleged to be an officer of the Chinese military was arrested in California on accusations that he lied on visa applications to come to the U.S. as a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, according to the Justice Department.

Xin Wang, who federal prosecutors say is a scientific researcher and officer with the PLA, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport as he attempted to leave for China.

Federal prosecutors say he was instructed by the director of his military university lab in China to observe the layout of the lab at UC San Francisco so that it could be replicated in there. Wang was also charged with visa fraud.