“A wake-up call for Canada”: Security experts say the case of two scientists being fired may point to espionage
China stated that its scientific cooperation with Canada should not be politicized. When answering the question about the dismissal of two scientists from Canada’s only Level 4 laboratory-this case has led to an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and requesting the Parliament to provide Detailed information and concerns about Chinese espionage.
Few people know why Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Cheng Keding, a biologist, were expelled from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg two years ago and deprived of their safety clearance. They were formally fired in January last year.
However, two national security experts believe that the scientist’s case has increased the likelihood of China’s espionage activities.
Christian Leuprecht, a security expert and professor at the Royal Military Academy and Queen’s University, said: “In terms of biosecurity and biodefense, what you might call a Chinese agent seems to have penetrated the most attention. One of the elements of national security.”
At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked whether Qiu Hecheng was involved in espionage activities on behalf of the Chinese government.
The couple shared information and virus samples from the Canadian laboratory with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is documented.
In response to a question from CBC News, Wang Wenbin said: “I don’t know what you mentioned. There is some scientific cooperation between China and Canada. This is normal and should not be politicized.”
The Level 4 virology facility is equipped with laboratories for dealing with the most serious and deadly human and animal diseases.This makes the Winnipeg laboratory one of the few laboratories in North America that can handle pathogens that require the highest level of control (such as Ebola virus).
Although Leuprecht has no inside information about the couple’s case, he said that the known facts of the story simply do not hold. He said that if the two directly violated national security, they would be charged.
Although there are no charges, Qiu and Cheng are still under investigation by the RCMP.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine will only say that the Federal Serious and Organized Crime Department of the RCMP is leading the ongoing investigation.
Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS) spokesperson Kiera Lawson also declined to answer questions. She said: “We will not comment publicly. [on], Or confirm or deny the details of our own investigation. “
Qiu is a doctor of medicine from Tianjin, China, and came to Canada in 1996 to study as a graduate student. She started at the University of Manitoba, but started working in the National Laboratory as a research scientist in 2006 and worked hard to become the head of Canada. The vaccine development and antiviral treatment part of the NML Special Pathogen Program.
She was also a member of the team that helped develop ZMapp, a drug to treat the deadly Ebola virus, which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.
But in July 2019, just a few months after she transported a batch of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, Qiu, Cheng and the Chinese students who worked with her were asked to leave the laboratory .
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Ebola as a “category A” bioterrorism pathogen because it is easily spread and causes high mortality. Henipah/Nipah are classified as “Class C” because they can be designed for large-scale dissemination.
At that time, sources told CBC News that several computers were confiscated, laboratory logs were lost, and Qiu’s regular trips to China were suspended.
For months, the Canada-China Parliamentary Special Committee has been asking the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to provide answers about the virus, the reasons for the dismissal of scientists, and whether they are Canadian citizens.
PHAC refused on the grounds of privacy legislation.
PHAC stated that the case involved possible violations of policy and administrative affairs, and the public has never been at risk. However, recently, officials have stated that this is a national security issue.
Last week, Parliament passed a Conservative Party motion requiring PHAC to hand over hundreds of pages of uncensored documents.
These documents are now shared with members of the National Security and Intelligence Committee (NSICOP), which is composed of members appointed by the prime minister and providing national security clearances.
Watch | Commission investigates cases where dismissed microbiologists were denied security clearance
Executive director Lisa-Marie Inman declined to answer questions about the work of the organization, saying that the committee only expressed its opinions through its report. These reports have been reviewed by the Prime Minister before being made public.
Leuprecht believes that these documents may reveal greater safety issues in the laboratory — and may expose the role of Canadian allies in the investigation.
“This can also explain why you didn’t accuse them, because once you accuse them, then in the end you have to let people go to trial. When you let people go to trial, you have to disclose the evidence you have. So the government may be very deliberate. It is possible to keep this situation within a relatively low range,” he said.
He said: “This needs to be a wake-up call for Canada to let them know how aggressively China has infiltrated Western institutions for political, economic and national security interests,” he pointed out Canada’s recent annual report on China’s espionage concerns. . Security Intelligence Service with National Security Council.
Cooperation with China
In the newly released document, PHAC outlines that working in NML requires a secret-level license, and anyone dealing with human pathogens and toxins must obtain a license under the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act (HPTA).
Since Qiu can enter the Level 4 laboratory, it shows that she has two permissions.
In 2017 and 2018, Mr. Qiu came to China at least five times, one of which was to train scientists and technicians in the newly certified Wuhan Level 4 laboratory in China.
According to documents obtained by CBC News through an information request, these trips were funded by a third party and their identities have been deleted.
2017-2018, edited or co-authored by Qiu 50 scientific papersAlthough she has not been allowed to enter the NML since mid-2019, she still has 32 publications named after her during this period, including 6 in 2021. Most involve Ebola virus or Marburg virus, as well as Chinese scientists and funding.
Qiu also brought Chinese graduate students and graduate students to work in her laboratory.
The Globe and Mail recently reported that one of the scientists was Feihu Yan from the PLA Academy of Military Medical Sciences.
Sources in the laboratory told CBC News that they saw Chinese military scientists at NML.Qiu has at least co-authored Yan’s eight publications.
PHAC spokesperson Eric Morrissette declined to answer questions about Yan working in Winnipeg, saying “this person is not an employee of the laboratory.”
Leuprecht and others criticized the lack of supervision, which led researchers like Yan to enter the laboratory.
“China has a very active, very aggressive and extremely dangerous biological weapons program,” Leuprecht said. “As a result, all the research conducted here can easily be misappropriated by the Chinese authorities to advance a rather evil cause.”
Due to China’s record on intellectual property espionage, another expert said that it is worrying that Chinese research institutions are helping to fund some of the work done in collaboration with NML scientists.
“Why didn’t our security procedures determine that this is not a good idea. These people, given their background, shouldn’t get a security clearance?” said Scott Newark, a former Alberta prosecutor and Canadian Police Association Executive officer, policy adviser to Ontario and the federal government.
Qiu Hecheng’s last public appearance was at a memorial service for Dr. Frank Plummer, the former head of the National Laboratory who died in February 2020.
Despite visiting their two homes in Winnipeg, they have never been contacted for comment. Neighbors said they had not seen the couple in their main residence for several months. The second home is a rental property. A former colleague said that Qiu also boasted of owning a luxury house in China.
I recently visited their property near the Gimli beach community on the Isle of Man and found an empty lot with no huts built on it.
Newark said that their property-valued at approximately $1.7 million-raised questions about whether they had income other than federal wages, and their combined income was approximately $250,000.
“This is an absolute outline… a big red flag,” he said.
Newark also stated that the Trudeau government tried to keep the details of the case confidential, which is similar to the “Rattlesnake Project” of the RCMP-CSIS joint intelligence report in the late 1990s.
It found that the Chinese government and Asian criminal groups have been cooperating in drug smuggling, nuclear espionage, and other criminal activities that pose a threat to Canadian security.
However, the report was shelved due to allegations of political pressure not to confront China. The Liberal government at the time was trying to encourage more trade between the two countries.
“No news is good news, which is something we often mention,” Newark said.
“In this case, it played out again. There are important security issues-not only for us, but also for all the other countries we work with-because if there is information from us to hostile foreign countries, That is a matter of great influence.”