How One Chinese Corporate Spy Dodged the FBI to Steal Inbred Corn Seeds from Iowa | Smart News | Smithsonian
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How One Chinese Corporate Spy Dodged the FBI to Steal Inbred Corn Seeds from Iowa

Mo Hailong faces a decade in prison for allegedly trying to steal millions of dollars-worth of corn seeds

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From September 2011 to October 2012, Mo Hailong allegedly engaged in a convoluted scheme to steal millions of dollars of special inbred corn seeds from farms in Iowa. The supposed corporate spy, working for Kings Nower Seed, used a fake name to tour DuPont and Monsanto and used countersurveillance techniques to throw the FBI off his trail. Mo's alleged associates were caught trying to smuggle corn seeds out of the country in what is, likely, one of the more bizarre FBI investigations of the year, and, less likely, the plot outline for an impending agrarian sequel to Ocean's Eleven.

According to the Des Moines Register, describing court documents, the FBI was brought in when DuPont officials spied Mo creeping around one of their corn fields:

FBI teams tracked Mo and five others with connections to Kings Nower Seed across the U.S. They observed Mo buying nearly $3,000 in Pioneer and Monsanto seeds in Dallas Center and northern Missouri.

The FBI saw Mo drop seeds off at a rented storage facility near Adel. It was near the facility that the FBI saw Mo use driving maneuvers designed to detect and evade anyone following him: He made several U-turns and backed into parking lots, documents show.


Mo also drove slowly on the interstate for long stretches and suddenly accelerated, another countersurveillance technique, according to documents.



But despite his best efforts, the FBI did eventually catch up to our alleged corn thief and his companions.

GPS data and audio secretly recorded in rental cars confirm the Chinese men made several stops next to research fields belonging to seed companies including DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, documents show. FBI teams observed several of them driving slowly by farm fields in Illinois and Indiana.

...

North of Burlington, Vt., a man named Wang Hongwei was crossing into Canada by car. He had lost an FBI tail by suddenly turning into a parking lot. Authorities found 44 bags with envelopes containing corn kernels, a notebook with GPS coordinates and a camera with hundreds of pictures of cornfields, documents show.


Other men were found trying to sneak seeds out of the country hidden in envelopes, or wrapped in napkins in their pockets.

More than ordinary corn seeds, Mo and co. were after special “inbred” seeds. Inbred corn is used to selectively breed special traits, like drought or pest resistance. The seeds were from research farms, and the “technology” locked up in these inbred seeds is extremely valuable.

Mo Hailong has been charged with corporate espionage, facing 10 years in prison and $5 million in fines, says the Register, with his associates potentially facing additional charges.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Price of Corn

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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