She came to Stanford University to study brain disease. Now Chen Song, who was previously arrested for visa fraud last summer, faces additional charges in a case tying her to the Chinese military, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday.
Prosecutors have accused the former Stanford visiting researcher of concealing ties to China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) and continued involvement with the organization while she worked at Stanford. A federal grand jury indicted her on Jan. 7 on additional charges of obstruction of official proceedings; two counts of alteration, destruction, mutilation or concealment of records; and making false statements to a government agency in connection with a scheme to conceal and lie about her status. She could face up to 55 years in federal prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Song, 39, a Chinese national, was arrested for visa fraud on July 18 after an investigation found that she and three others allegedly omitted or lied about their military connections on their U.S. visa applications.
In November 2018, Song applied for a J-1 visa, which is designated "for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs," according to federal prosecutors. She described herself as a neurologist who was coming to the U.S. to conduct research related to brain disease at Stanford. In response to an application question about military service, Song wrote that she had served in the Chinese military only from Sept. 1, 2000, through June 30, 2011. She was a student employed at Xi Diaoyutai Hospital in Beijing, she claimed.
However, Song allegedly neglected to say that she was a member of the People's Liberation Army at the time she entered the U.S. on Dec. 23, 2018, and continued to be employed by the Chinese military, federal prosecutors said.
The medical facility she listed on her visa as her employer, Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, was also a cover for her true employer, the PLA Air Force General Hospital in Beijing, according to prosecutors.
When Song learned about a case against another PLA member, who was charged with visa fraud on June 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, she allegedly attempted to delete a digital folder of documents on an external hard drive related to her military service and visa fraud, the new indictment alleges. The documents included a letter from Song, written in Chinese and addressed to the People's Republic of China Consulate in New York, in which she explained that her stated employer, Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, was a false front; an image of her PLA credentials, with a photograph of her in military dress uniform, from July 2016 to July 2020; and a resume written in Chinese, which included her photograph in a military dress uniform and listed her employer as the Air Force General Hospital.
"When Song feared discovery, she destroyed documents in a failed attempt to conceal her true identity. This prosecution will help to protect elite institutions like Stanford from illicit foreign influences," David L. Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said in a press release.
Song also allegedly lied to FBI agents, denying any affiliation with the PLA after 2011. Information associating her with the PLA or Air Force General Hospital began to disappear from the internet after she learned of the FBI's investigation, prosecutors allege.
After Song was initially charged, she selectively deleted information about military service, employment and affiliations from her email account, prosecutors claim.
If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the visa fraud count; up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the obstruction and alteration charges; and up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the false statements charge.
"The FBI is committed to protecting academic institutions in the Bay Area from PRC (People's Republic of China) military officers who knowingly and willfully lie about their military affiliations to access American research and development. We will exhaust all investigative techniques and measures to ensure the safety, security, and hard work of American universities," Craig Fair, FBI special agent in charge, said in the release.
Song's next appearance in federal court is scheduled for April 7 before U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in San Francisco for a pretrial conference. Her trial is scheduled to begin on April 12.