Operation Brain Drain
October 10, 2017 8:41 AM   Subscribe

 
This would make a good movie script. Nerdy scientist becomes CIA point man to get foreign scientists to defect. Let's get to writing!
posted by Roentgen at 8:58 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


More than any other academic venue, conferences lend themselves to espionage. Assisted by globalization, these social and intellectual rituals have become ubiquitous. Like stops on the world golf or tennis circuits, they sprout up wherever the climate is favorable, and draw a jet-setting crowd. What they lack in prize money, they make up for in prestige. Although researchers chat electronically all the time, virtual meetings are no substitute for getting together with peers, networking for jobs, checking out the latest gadgets, and delivering papers that will later be published in volumes of conference proceedings. “The attraction of the conference circuit,” English novelist David Lodge wrote in “Small World,” his 1984 send-up of academic life, is that “it’s a way of converting work into play, combining professionalism with tourism, and all at someone else’s expense. Write a paper and see the world!”

This former bioinformatician thinks that this paragraph makes conferences sound a lot sexier than they generally are.
posted by kersplunk at 8:59 AM on October 10 [16 favorites]


"This would make a good movie script. Nerdy scientist becomes CIA point man to get foreign scientists to defect. Let's get to writing!"

Argo 2: Atomic Boogaloo?
posted by steamynachos at 9:05 AM on October 10 [12 favorites]


That's the kind of CIA action I can get behind. So much better than Hellfire missiles. It wouldn't work with every country, I think many Iranians have relatives in the US and would be happy to move there.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:07 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


This former bioinformatician thinks that this paragraph makes conferences sound a lot sexier than they generally are.

That's because despite the image Hollywood portrays, spycraft isn't that sexy.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:13 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Argo 2: Atomic Boogaloo?

Argo fund yourself.
posted by NormieP at 9:17 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


That's because despite the image Hollywood portrays, spycraft isn't that sexy.

I enjoyed the digression into "the bump" and how intricate and important it is in forming a connection. Spycraft isn't sexy, but seeing the nuts and bolts of it is very interesting.
posted by Roentgen at 9:21 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Fascinating article, though it seems to lump everything related to "academia + intelligence agencies" together into one pile. The CIA actually staging a conference to target a particular attendee seems to me like a different "kind" of thing than sending agents to make contacts at a conference, which is itself different than inviting external academics to a conference intended to educate their own people. Except for the laundering of sponsorship, that last one sounds exactly like any number of industry-specific conferences.

(As an aside, I've been to a couple of large, public computing conferences and seen a scattering of attendees with first-name-only badges and affiliation listed as "Government". Not fooling anyone, folks. ;) )

Apart of the shady hijinks like poisoning guards, though, this sounds to me like exactly the kind of thing an intelligence agency should be doing.
posted by fencerjimmy at 9:37 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


That explains all the Yevgenys and Vlads seeming to randomly chat me up at the last World Symposium on Podesta Phishing.
posted by univac at 10:27 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


(As an aside, I've been to a couple of large, public computing conferences and seen a scattering of attendees with first-name-only badges and affiliation listed as "Government". Not fooling anyone, folks. ;) )

The perennial party game of Defcon is "Spot The Fed".
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:57 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


(As an aside, I've been to a couple of large, public computing conferences and seen a scattering of attendees with first-name-only badges and affiliation listed as "Government". Not fooling anyone, folks. ;) )

Maybe their last name is actually "Government".... Jennifer Government.
posted by Fizz at 11:14 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


“Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It's a brave new corporate world, but you don't want to be caught without a platinum credit card--as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she's allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale--and everything must go.
posted by Fizz at 11:15 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


The FBI warned American academics in 2011 to be cautious about conferences, citing this scenario: ‘A researcher receives an unsolicited invitation to submit a paper for an international conference. She submits a paper and it is accepted. At the conference, the hosts ask for a copy of her presentation. The hosts hook a thumb drive to her laptop, and unbeknownst to her, download every file and data source from her computer.’”

Representation matters, even in FBI propaganda.

Emphasis mine.
posted by Grandysaur at 12:04 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I was surprised at how upset reading this made me. At first I was thinking, har har, so that's who's behind all the fake conference invitation spam I'm getting lately. Fortunately, any conference in my field offering speakers an honorarium would raise so much suspicion they'd never be able to pull it off.

I was a postdoc at Fermilab back in the day, and because it was a U.S. Department of Energy lab, policy was that anyone travelling out of the U.S. had to submit a list of everyone that they interacted with while abroad. I don't remember going to any overseas conferences while this was in effect, but the practice was to just provide a copy of the list of registrants. Apparently some of my colleagues even got a visit afterwards from some nice person who wanted to chat about any interesting people they met while abroad. It kind of makes me shudder now.

The FBI warned American academics in 2011 to be cautious about conferences, citing this scenario: '[...] The hosts hook a thumb drive to her laptop, and unbeknownst to her, download every file and data source from her computer.'

Clearly the FBI is not familiar with the top speed of a USB connection.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:30 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Also, how do you know the person who says "I’m from the CIA, and I want you to board a plane with me to the United States" isn't going to put you on a plane to the CIA's black site torture room that appeared on the Blue yesterday?
posted by heatherlogan at 6:40 PM on October 10


It would be extremely painful
posted by Apocryphon at 7:00 PM on October 10


"(As an aside, I've been to a couple of large, public computing conferences and seen a scattering of attendees with first-name-only badges and affiliation listed as "Government". Not fooling anyone, folks. ;) )"

Those aren't the spooks; or rather they aren't the ones who are undercover. The ones who are spies just flat out lie or put something that doesn't make one even more curious. It's certainly possible that those folks can't discuss their work, and engage in classified activities, but the covert operatives (who are recruiting, engaging in espionage, etc) don't look that obvious.
posted by el io at 12:49 PM on October 11


This (together with more standard forms of recruitment) is a great use of "soft power" and it's another thing Trump is ruining. Nobody's going to accept an offer like that unless they're sure that it won't be unexpectedly withdrawn and consequently find themselves subject to deportation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:34 PM on October 14


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