On July 26, Chinese national Tang Juan will face trial in U.S. Federal Court for lying about her ties to the Chinese military in order to gain access to American universities such as the University of California at Davis.

According to a federal criminal complaint filed on June 26, 2020, in the Eastern District of California, Tang applied for a non-immigrant visa on Oct. 28, 2019. She answered “no” to the question “have you served in the military?” and denied affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Tang was issued a J-1 visa on Nov. 5, 2019, to conduct research at UC Davis. The complaint provides evidence that a more thorough investigation should have been conducted before the visa was granted.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation found an April 14, 2019 article on a Xi’an, China, health care forum that showed Tang in a military uniform bearing the insignia of the Civilian Cadres of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The FBI also found two other articles listing Tang’s employer as the People’s Liberation Army’s Air Force Medical University (AFMU), also known as the Fourth Military Medical University (FMMU).

According to a July 23, 2020 report in The Davis Enterprise, headlined “UC Davis researcher charged with visa fraud for hiding ties to the Chinese military,” Tang told the FBI she was required to wear the uniform and was unaware of the insignia’s meaning. On electronic media reviewed by the FBI, Tang wore a different People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uniform and an application for benefits identified her as a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

UC Davis officials told The Enterprise that Tang came to UC Davis through an exchange program with Xijing Hospital in the city of Xi’an. That institution dates to 1954 and includes “eight specialized medical centers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).” The hospital’s exchange program works through the Chinese Scholarship Council, affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.

At UC Davis, Tang worked in the Department of Radiation Oncology, and according to campus officials her work was “solely based in the research laboratory.” After leaving UC Davis at the end of June 2020, The Enterprise reported, “Tang fled to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.” In late July, she left the consulate for a doctor’s appointment and was arrested by the FBI.

Tang Juan also emerged in the visa fraud case of Song Chen, according to July 20, 2020, court documents, “an active duty People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military scientist who lied to get into the United States, attempted to destroy evidence, and lied extensively to the FBI when interviewed.”

The documents also cite Wang Xin, a visiting researcher at the University of California at San Francisco arrested on charges of visa fraud. Wang was “in fact an active duty member in the PLA, at a level that roughly corresponded with the level of major in the United States.” Wang had “emailed UCSF research to his PLA laboratory,” and his supervisor in China tasked Wang “to observe and document the layout of the UCSF lab to replicate it when he returned to China.”

The court documents refer to Tang Juan, also in the United States on a J-1 visa. So was a Chinese national identified as “LT,” who gained access to Duke University despite affiliations with “the PLA General Hospital and PLA Medical Academy.”

The cases are not isolated but “part of a program conducted by the PLA—and specifically, FMMU or associated institutions—to send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses with false covers or false statements about their true employment.” Evidence exists of “copying or stealing information from American institutions at the direction of military superiors in China” and “the PRC government instructing these individuals to destroy evidence and in coordinating efforts,” the court document said.

In June, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez dismissed the charge of lying to the FBI, because the FBI failed to advise Tang Juan that she did not have to answer their questions. Tang is still charged with lying about her ties to the Chinese military and the CCP. A conviction for false statements could bring five years in prison and visa fraud ten years, plus fines of $250,000 in both cases. The Chinese national has pleaded not guilty.

As her case plays out, Americans have cause to wonder why her visa was granted in the first place. A simple internet search turned up PLA and CCP ties for Tang Juan and others now facing charges. The court documents do not reveal which U.S. government officials granted the visas, and what they knew when they approved Chinese nationals with PLA and CCP ties.

Americans might also wonder why stealing information at the direction of the Chinese military did not result in charges of espionage. China clearly acquired valuable information from their agents at Stanford, Duke, and UC Davis. The United States gains little, if anything, from the exchange programs but calls are not ringing out to limit or end them altogether.