When Peter and Eric open the latest podcast episode by talking about balloons and popcorn, you might be imagining wide-eyed little children at the county fair, not a sneaky communist regime committing economic and military espionage on America.
But that’s what popcorn and balloons mean here at The Drill Down with Peter Schweizer.
Of course, the big story of the past week was the Communist Chinese government’s spy balloon that floated across the US through Montana and 10 other states before being shot down by a missile fired by an F-22 fighter jet off the coast of Myrtle Beach, SC. Not since 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite shot into Earth’s orbit, has a foreign government’s flight activity so captured attention and rattled so many Americans. The Biden administration eventually denounced the effort as high-altitude spying, especially since the balloon’s path took it 65,000 feet above some sensitive military bases during its 8-day flight across the country. The Chinese government ridiculously claimed the balloon was “a misguided weather balloon.” Many Americans just wondered why the US didn’t shoot it down sooner.
US intelligence officials told reporters that they determined the risk to people on the ground was too great to shoot the spy balloon down until it was over the Atlantic Ocean, but added without elaboration that “… we have taken additional mitigation steps” to limit its ability to see, take or transmit images.
The new chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Turner, (R-OH), was furious. “Clearly, the president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over,” he said on a Sunday talk show. “This was an attempt by China to gather information to defeat our command and control of our sensitive missile defense and nuclear weapon sites and this certainly is an urgency that the administration does not recognize,” he added.
The Chinese are not known for such caution, Peter tells Eric. “Twenty years ago, an American spy plane was in international airspace, and a Chinese fighter jet bumped it, causing damage. The plane had to make an emergency landing on an island near China. They detained the crew of that plane for about ten days,” he said. “There was another instance where we had an underwater drone that was operating in the South Pacific. They captured it, and returned it a couple months later… in pieces. That is how China rolls,” Peter said.
The show this week was already going to be about China and its recent attempts to purchase agricultural land in the US, among other suspicious activities, but nothing focuses the mind like a balloon floating a sensor array the size of three school buses across the country.
China has recently lost out on some potentially lucrative, if odd, land purchase attempts. The mayor of Grand Forks, ND and the state’s governor had been big supporters of a plan by a Chinese company to construct a corn mill in that city. That is, until the project came under national security concerns because of the corn mill’s proximity to an important Air Force Base and what a perfect location the corn mill would have been to conduct surveillance operations on the base. The project is just the latest in a series of concerns over China’s purchasing of U.S. farmland and other property in general. In short, there’s always going to be a conflict between local economic motivations and national security concerns. Chinese projects like this one pose risks including spying and theft of intellectual property as well as food supply sabotage capabilities. Also located near the canceled corn mill project is a factory in Grand Forks of a California-based company called General Atomics that produces unmanned aircraft there. These two factors created a major vulnerability for maintaining the necessary secrecy and integrity of classified weapons among other things, Peter explained.
Agriculture is a high-tech field these days, and Chinese operatives stole corn seedlings, ears of corn, packaged seed, and genetically-modified strains created and patented by U.S.-based agricultural company Monsanto for the use of American farmers. How did they try to smuggle it out of the US? Employees of the Chinese agricultural company Dabeinong Technology Group Co. (DBN) and a subsidiary sneaked through midwestern cornfields, U.S. prosecutors allege, stealthily gathering patented corn that they attempted to smuggle out of the United States in microwave popcorn boxes.
Just this year, Chinese national Xiang Haitao was charged by the Department of Justice with conspiracy to commit economic espionage by stealing a trade secret from Monsanto for the purpose of benefitting the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese have also taken enormous investment stakes in Hollywood, as listeners learned on an earlier episode featuring Erich Schwartzel, the author of a book called Red Carpet about Hollywood and its financial connections to China.
Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, recently canceled his state’s participation in a global economic deal with the Ford Motor Company and the Chinese company that is the largest manufacturer of batteries for electric vehicles over security concerns with Ford’s Chinese partner.
The truth is, Peter says, “China walked away from ‘globalization’ a long time ago. They won’t allow an American business to buy any company in China. You can’t open up a factory without including them. The Tesla factory, for example, is co-owned by a Chinese company. And the notion that you could build a corn mill near a Chinese military facility? No freaking way,” he added.
We should have reciprocity with China what they do with us. But the federal government has been slow to react to these kinds of activities.
The Government Accountability Institute, Peter and Eric’s organization, is on the case. “We’ve started looking at Chinese land purchases,” Eric said. Peter added that the Chinese know how to mask their ownership by making purchases through a series of shell companies and LLCs that mask the real purchaser. “If you set up an LLC in a place like Delaware or Nevada, you can mask who actually owns this stuff. You see this in residential real estate all the time in places like Florida, where Chinese entities come in and buy hundreds of houses or condos. And nobody knows they are actually owned by Chinese officials.”
He added, “It’s a failure of our institutions to respond to this threat. We shouldn’t just be getting mad at the Chinese. We should look at why our leadership class is failing to rise to this challenge.”