Two agricultural scientists from China have been accused of trying to steal patented seeds from a biopharmaceutical company in Kansas.
Separately, six men from China, including the CEO of a seed corn subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, were charged Thursday with conspiring to steal patented seed corn from two of the nation's leading seed developers, prosecutors said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
It wasn't immediately clear if the arrests were related, but The AP wrote of the group of six charged:
"Court documents read like an espionage novel with Chinese men found crawling on their knees in Midwest cornfields secretly stealing corn ears and federal agents obtaining court orders to tap the cell phone and bug the rental car of the CEO of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Beijing-based conglomerate DBN Group."
"The FBI also placed GPS tracking devices on cars and tracked the men as they moved around the Midwest countryside stopping at cornfields and buying bags of seed from dealers in Iowa and Missouri."
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom identified the two scientists charged in Kansas as Weiqiang Zhang, 47, and Wengui Yan, 63, both from the People's Republic of China but living legally in the U.S.
According to a statement issued by Grissom's office:
"The victim in the case - identified in court records as Company A — has invested approximately $75 million in patented technology used to create a variety of seeds containing recombinant proteins. The company has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issued patents."
"An affidavit in support of the complaint alleges that on Aug. 7, 2013, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China preparing to board a plane to return home. While in the United States, the group had visited various agricultural facilities and universities in the Midwest, as well as the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuggart, Ark."
The six others include Mo Hailong, who was arrested in Wednesday in Miami, according to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt, the Des Moines-based federal prosecutor for central Iowa, according to AP.
Mo is charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The other five men charged are being sought by federal authorities, Klinefeldt said.
The AP says:
"Wang Hongwei, a dual citizen of China and Canada, who lives in Canada, also is charged. Klinefeldt said the U.S. and Canada does have an extradition agreement and all avenues are being considered to bring him into custody."
"Court documents allege the men were observed taking corn from test fields containing highly valuable seed owned by Pioneer Hybrid and Monsanto, hiding it in a storage unit near Des Moines and eventually taking it to farm in Monee, Ill., which the FBI said had been purchased by Kings Nower Seed in March 2012."
The Associated Press reports in an investigative piece that an ex-FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 and was last seen in a "proof of life" photograph more than two years ago had been working for the CIA, despite official denials from the U.S.
Robert Levinson, who would now be 65, vanished after traveling in March 2007 to the Iranian island of Kish, described by The Associated Press as a resort "awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures."
He was being paid to gather intelligence on Iran by a team of analysts who had no authority to run spy operations in what amounted to "an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules," the AP writes.
Since Levinson was in the process of negotiating a new contract with the agency, "After he vanished, CIA officials told Congress in closed hearings as well as the FBI that Levinson did not have a current relationship with the agency and downplayed its ties with him," a co-author of the AP investigative article, Adam Goldman, wrote in The Washington Post.
For years after his disappearance, the U.S. publicly described Levinson "as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business."
The Two-Way's Mark Memmott wrote about Levinson two years ago, when his family publicly pleaded for his release.
Within the CIA, the revelation of the rogue operation with Levinson as point man "prompted a major internal investigation that had wide-ranging repercussions at Langley, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive case," the Post says.
The CIA "ultimately concluded it was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran and paid $2.5 million to his wife, Christine," the Post says, quoting unnamed U.S. intelligence officials.
"Levinson's whereabouts are unknown today. Investigators can't even say for certain whether he's still alive. The last proof of life came about three years ago when the Levinson family received a video of him and later pictures of him shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
" 'I have been held here for three-and-a-half years,' he says in the video. 'I am not in good health.'
"U.S. intelligence officials concede that if he is alive, Levinson, who would now be 65, probably would have told his captors about his work for the CIA as he was likely subjected to harsh interrogation."
In response to the AP story, National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden released the following statement Thursday evening:
"Without commenting on any purported affiliation between Mr. Levinson and the U.S. government, the White House and others in the U.S. Government strongly urged the AP not to run this story out of concern for Mr. Levinson's life," Hayden said. "We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home. The investigation into Mr. Levinson's disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family."
Chemical weapons were used in Syria's civil war, according to a team of international chemical weapons experts sent to investigate claims of chemical attacks.
"The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic," the inspectors say.
Their final report confirms some earlier allegations, citing "clear and convincing evidence" that the weapons were used against children and other civilians in Ghouta, near Damascus in August, and "credible information" that they were used against soldiers and civilians in Khan Al Asal in March.
Other findings were less certain, with the inspectors saying that there were signs of "probable use" of chemical weapons, or that the evidence was inconclusive.
The U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs posted the 82-page final report of the inspections team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons today. It cites evidence that includes the results of tests conducted on samples taken from buildings in the area, as well as photographs of spent munitions.
Some of the devices appear to have been improvised, as was their delivery. One section describes munitions being dropped from a helicopter; another says a type of catapult was used.
Led by professor Ake Sellstrom, the inspections team submitted an initial report in September that led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to express "profound shock and regret" at what he called "a war crime."
The inspectors had initially been tasked with examining 16 locations where the use of chemical weapons was suspected in 2013 and late 2012. Citing a lack of "sufficient or credible information" regarding nine sites, the inspectors determined they would investigate seven spots.
They weren't able to visit at least one of those locations, which "was still contested" by rebels and government forces, the inspectors said.
After receiving the report Thursday, the U.N. secretary-general said he plans to brief the General Assembly on Friday, and the Security Council on Monday.
U.S. wireless carriers reached a deal with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday that will make it easier for consumers to "unlock" their mobile phones and use them on a competitor's network.
The deal came in the wake of a consumer rebellion over the policy of locking cellphones to a carrier. A petition that garnered more than 114,000 signatures landed at the White House, and the Obama administration sided with the petitioners.
The law changed this year after a ruling by the Library of Congress, which oversees U.S. copyright law and reviews exemptions every three years. After pressure from the wireless industry, the Library of Congress did not renew an exemption that had allowed consumers to unlock a cellphone.
But under Thursday's agreement, a carrier such as T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon must now unlock a cellphone from its network within two days if a consumer requests it at the end of a service contract.
The agreement doesn't fully satisfy consumer advocates. Derek Khanna, one of the organizers of the White House petition, points out that it remains illegal to unlock a phone without permission from the carrier. "If a consumer chooses to unlock his or her own device," he says, "let's say [they] travel abroad, it is still a felony punishable by five years in prison."
Khanna also would like the FCC to monitor wireless companies to make certain that unlocking is an easy process for consumers. And advocates are still pressing for Congress to take up the issue and change copyright law.
We all know James Bond had a hankering for martinis. But it looks like the international spy threw back far more Vespers, his martini of choice, than was good for him.
Dr. Indra Neil Guha, a liver specialist, and his colleagues at Nottingham University Hospital in England spent a year poring over Ian Fleming's James Bond books and tabulating how many drinks the suave spy drank a day.
Their conclusion? Even just steadying his Walther PPK might have been difficult for Bond.
On average, Bond consumed about 45 drinks a week, or six to seven a day, the authors wrote Thursday in the annual Christmas edition of BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal. That's way more than the amount considered risky for men by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
It wasn't just chronic drinking that roughed up Bond's liver. He also went on some mean benders. In Casino Royale, Bond knocked back nearly 20 drinks before going on a high-speed car chase, getting in a wreck and then spending two weeks in the hospital. "We hope that this was a salutary lesson," the authors wrote dryly.
"This man clearly consumed what are considered to be harmful amounts of alcohol," says psychiatrist Peter Martin, who directs the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. "There are data that show that drinking like this, about 100 grams of alcohol a day, is highly likely to be associated with liver cirrhosis and also cognitive deficits." It would also be likely to increase risks for depression and sexual dysfunction, conditions that would not be very Bondian.
But Martin says, Bond's habit might not have been quite as bad it first seemed. For starters, the recommended maximum number of drinks is calculated for the average man, weighing about 154 pounds. "Bond was 6 feet 2 inches, or maybe 3 inches, tall, and probably weighed close to 200 pounds. So that would mitigate the numbers."
Martin, an admitted Bond fan, adds, "You have to remember, this was the '50s. People drank more and smoked more." And Bond was hardly alone. "Think about how much a person like Winston Churchill drank," Martin says. "He drank a lot! But yet he ran the effort of the western nations in the world war. So this is not unprecedented."
Duke neuropsychologist Scott Swartzwelder doesn't buy the Bond myth. He thinks all those Vesper martinis over the years would have hurt Bond's career.
"Bond isn't going to be downing three or four martinis, and then winning a fight with five guys," Swartzwelder tells Shots. "He might be starting the fights, but he's not winning them."
The old saw that every drink kills lots of brain cells isn't true, Swartzwelder says. "But chronic drinking does damage neurons and brain circuits over time," he says. "And there are parts of the brain that you don't want to damage if you're an international spy."
First off, chronic alcohol abuse can injure the cerebellum, the brain region involved with coordination, Swartzwelder says. "It allows you to string together a series of athletic movements."
"If Bond is pickling his cerebellum on a regular basis, he's not going to be able to learn fight sequences, jump through windows and shoot at the same time or even learn those dance sequences with his girlfriend," he says.
The second brain region damaged by years of heavy drinking is the hippocampus, Swartzwelder says. Shaped like a little sea horse, the hippocampus is dedicated to forming new memories.
"It is very sensitive to the effects of alcohol," he says. "Bond wouldn't be able to remember all those names, card numbers at poker games or even all his girlfriends' phones numbers if his hippocampus wasn't working correctly. "
"Believe me," Swartzwelder says. "Bond wouldn't have been doing the things that we he was doing in those movies if he drank as much as the study found."
And Swartzwelder thinks the authors of the BMJ study did a pretty good job of accurately calculating the spy's drinking habit.
"The authors astutely counted the martinis as three alcohol units," or 1.5 drinks, Swartzwelder says. "Most college students — even many people — don't know what one drink is. So they underestimate their alcohol intake. A wineglass filled up more than a third of the way, that's more than one drink."
Plus, he says, people have to be careful with beer these days because many of them have almost as much alcohol per volume as wine.
"I went out for a beer with a young friend of mine, who's all into all these fancy beers, and I was drunk after drinking just one," Swartzwelder says. "Then I realized, the beer had more than 8 percent alcohol in it. It was like I was drinking a pint of wine."