The FBI this week released a film highlighting what it says are aggressive Chinese intelligence recruitments efforts in the U.S.
The 26-minute dramatization, “Nevernight Connection,” is loosely based on the case of former CIA officer Kevin Mallory, convicted of spying for China. It was co-produced with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, a part of the Director of National Intelligence’s office.
In the video, a gum-chewing Chinese hacker is shown posting a notice on a fictional social networking site in a bid to contact people with access to secrets who may be recruited as spies. The email entices a U.S. intelligence community expert who was a former underwater warfare specialist at a Naval Support Facility Dahlgren in Virginia.
The specialist is offered $1,500 to produce a white paper on how advanced technology will affect undersea exploration.
The potential recruit then flies to Shanghai, dubbed “Nevernight” because of its nightlife, and is paid in cash for the speech. The specialist later realizes he has been tricked into spying for Chinese intelligence after he sees a news report of another American arrested as a spy for Beijing.
The American spy recruit at one point is shown approaching a coworker and unsuccessfully asking him for sensitive information. He explains the information was not for him, but “I’m just trying to point some people in the right direction.”
A tip to the FBI from the coworker led to the spy’s arrest and sentencing of 20 years in prison.
Alan E. Kohler, FBI assistant director for counterintelligence said in a statement the movie “highlights [how] foreign intelligence services are posing as headhunters and consultants on professional networking sites to aggressively target Americans.”
At the end of the film, the FBI released actual footage of the arrest of Mallory by a Loudoun County, Virginia deputy sheriff.
Mallory, 62, of Leesburg, Va., was a former CIA officer who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May 2019 for passing defense information to China. Mallory was recruited by Chinese intelligence through LinkedIn and met his handler, who was posing as a Chinese think tank employee, in Shanghai.
The FBI found a cell phone given to Mallory by the Chinese which had been used for transmitting CIA secrets, including clues to identify human sources who had helped the U.S. government.
Mallory worked for CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and defense contractors, and held a top-secret security clearance.
A notice at the end of the film states that Chinese intelligence agencies have targeted thousands of people in the United States and other Western countries for recruitment using social networking platforms, including current and former officials, business people, academics and researchers.
“The threat is real. Think before you link,” the FBI warned.