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FBI warns: Beware international intelligence threats

There is no such thing as 'money for nothing', FBI warns US study abroad students


The FBI has issued a warning to US students looking to study abroad to watch out for foreign intelligence and espionage recruitment schemes.

The warning, accompanied by a 30 minute video ‘Game of Pawns’ comes in response to the case of Glenn Duffie Shriver, a former US student studying in China found guilty of attempting to provide US defence information to the PRC government after being recruited by Chinese intelligence agents. The video dramatises Shriver’s story and offers advice to help students stay safe whilst abroad. 

Identifying foreign intelligence schemes can be difficult, warns the FBI, saying that the initial pretext you may be approached under, such as job or internship opportunities, may seem harmless. When presented with a ‘money-for-nothing’ proposition or offer that seems too good to be true, it may be too late.

‘As relationships are developed, the student might be asked to perform a task and provide information—not necessarily sensitive or classified—in exchange for payment or other rewards,’ an official statement reads.

‘We’d like American students travelling overseas to view this video before leaving the US so they’re able to recognize when they’re being targeted and/or recruited.’

Whilst no countries have been flagged as being exceptionally risky, the FBI has indicated that the amount of US students being recruited by foreign agents is increasing. Students have also been warned to be aware that they may likewise be recruited by agents from a third country whilst abroad.

In response to the warning, a number of US universities have allowed FBI officials on campus to run in-person briefing sessions to staff and students, whilst NAFSA: Association of International Educators has released guidelines for how best to respond to the video and manage potential risks for students studying abroad. The FBI has also released a downloadable pamphlet for students about how they can best protect themselves abroad.

Shriver, pleading ignorance to the implications of his actions, was initially approached under the pretext of writing political essays in English in exchange for payment. After receiving his first wage, Shriver was asked to form a relationship with his ‘employers’ and was eventually encouraged to apply for US government jobs. As he did so, Shriver received a total of US$70,000 from 2005-2010.  

‘Don’t fool yourself. The recruitment is active, and the target is young people,’ Shriver said in an interview from his prison cell. ‘The biggest thing was how friendly they were, you know just, ‘Hey, no problem, you want some money?’’

The FBI is currently working to increase focus on preparing students for the dangers of studying abroad, and raising awareness of foreign espionage activities.


There’s no need to fear studying abroad if you keep your wits about you. Browse Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Doctoral courses abroad now and start planning your (safe) study abroad adventure!

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About Author


Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.


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