DES MOINES | The recent revelation that a Chinese national involved in a corporate agriculture espionage plot attended a 2012 state dinner in Iowa under an assumed name has heightened the need for safety and security among state officials, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday.
Last week federal authorities in Iowa arrested a Florida man working for a Chinese company and charged him with conspiracy to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. Mo Hailong, also known Robert Mo, a Chinese national and permanent U.S. resident, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine for his alleged role in what authorities call the first corporate agriculture espionage case of its kind in Iowa.
Court documents filed last week in the case indicated that in February 2012, Mo used an alias to tour Pioneer and Monsanto facilities with a group in the days leading up to the state dinner hosted by Branstad for then-vice president Xi Jin¬ping, now president of China. FBI surveillance also indicated Mo attended the state dinner and an agriculture symposium the following day at the World Food Prize using the alias Hougang Wu.
“We already have stepped up security and it’s very significant, and it’s going to continue to be, and I think the fact that you had this situation is going to just heighten that,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly news conference Monday. “The fact that the individual was caught and will be prosecuted is an indication that this is taken seriously and we do have effective means of preventing it.”
The Iowa governor said there was a “tremendous amount of security and scrutiny that went on at that time” and efforts were made to treat people fairly as well as protecting the rights of individuals and companies.
“There were 1,600 people at that state dinner. I’m sure there were probably other people that maybe had some things that are questionable in their background, too,” he said. “There’s no way that we’re going to be able to detect everybody that comes to every event and every dinner.”
Branstad, who has been a frequent visitor to China and established a sister-state relationship with the Hebei province in China that laid the foundation for Xi’s 2012 Iowa visit, said the plot by up to seven co-conspirators to steal seed corn trade secrets “may present some additional challenges” for U.S.-Chinese relations.
“But,” he added, “this is a particular incident and we’ve been working for 30 years to build friendship, trust and relationships between our two countries and I don’t think this should prevent us from continuing to work together to improve opportunities for both the United States and China.”