Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Siblings and Chinese nationals Mo Hailong and Mo Yu face prosecution for plotting to steal genetically modified seed technology. (Photo: BASF/cc/flickr)

Siblings and Chinese nationals Mo Hailong and Mo Yu face prosecution for plotting to steal genetically modified seed technology. (Photo: BASF/cc/flickr)

GMO Seed Theft Equals National Security Threat, Argues Government

Defense attorneys say spying on alleged Chinese seed plotters in trade dispute signifies 'breathtaking' overreach

Lauren McCauley

In what defense attorneys are calling a "breathtaking and unprecedented" abuse of power, a top secret government court has authorized the surveillance of two Chinese nationals accused of stealing genetically modified (GM) seed technology from biotech giants DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, according to court documents and reported by the Des Moines Register on Monday.

Federal investigators reportedly sought approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also known as the FISA court, which is best known for rubber stamping the NSA's sweeping surveillance program for the powers to spy on the communications of siblings Mo Hailong and Mo Yu in an attempt to connect the two employees of the Beijing-based DBN Group, a conglomerate that owns a seed company, with the Chinese government.

However, rights advocates and attorneys representing the pair say that the government is conflating a trade dispute with a national security threat in order to protect the interests of the powerful biotechnology industry.

"For the first time in the statute's history (as far as our research reveals), the government used FISA to investigate a trade secret dispute between two privately owned companies."
—Mark Weinhardt, Defense attorney

"FISA was intended to capture information about national security-type threats," Faiza Patel, a national security expert with the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Register. "It wasn't meant to capture ordinary crime, such as violating trade secrets." 

Defense attorney Mark Weinhardt has filed a motion to suppress evidence gathered under FISA from being introduced during the siblings' trial, which is scheduled for Sept. 14. As Patel noted, the lack of transparency surrounding the FISA court makes challenging evidence nearly impossible.

"This case involves a breathtaking and unprecedented expansion of the government's use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," Weinhardt wrote in the motion. "For the first time in the statute's history (as far as our research reveals), the government used FISA to investigate a trade secret dispute between two privately owned companies."

According to court records, "prosecutors have turned over to defense attorneys a mountain of more than 500,000 documents, 50 hours of audio tapes and two years' worth of surveillance footage generated by the investigation," the Register reports. The FBI's investigation into the seed stealing plot began in 2011 after a DuPont Pioneer field manager found Mo Hailong, "nervously" digging in one of the company's test fields.

If convicted, the two could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·


Looming US Supreme Court Climate Decision Could 'Doom' Hope for Livable Future

"The immediate issue is the limits of the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases," said one scientist. "The broader issue is the ability of federal agencies to regulate anything at all."

Jessica Corbett ·


Supreme Court Takes 'Wrecking Ball' to Separation of Church and State With Prayer Ruling

After decades of affirming that prayers led by school officials are unconstitutional, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, "the court now charts a different path."

Julia Conley ·


Louisiana Judge Blocks State's Post-Roe Abortion Ban

"Abortion care will resume in the state and a hearing has been set for July 8th," said the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Jake Johnson ·


Progressives Launch 'Four More' Campaign to Demand Supreme Court Expansion

"In a true democracy, power rests with the people," one campaigner asserted. "And the only way to take our power back is to take back the court."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo