Seed World

FBI Uses Surveillance Act to Gather Seed Theft Evidence

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has invoked its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to gather evidence against two Chinese men accused of plotting to steal patented corn seed from Iowa fields.
The Des Moines Register reports: “In a move that defense attorneys call ‘breathtaking,’ prosecutors plan to introduce evidence at trial gathered under FISA, which allows the FBI to bypass a traditional search warrant. Agents seeking evidence instead need only get approval from a secret Washington, D.C.-based court designed to hear complex national security cases.”
The case against the two Chinese brothers, Mo Hailong and Mo Yun, began in 2011 when DuPont Pioneer was the victim of seed theft after a field manager in Iowa noticed a man on his knees in a field of a new corn variety not yet released publicly by the company. The field manager confronted the suspicious man, who said he was from the University of Iowa on his way to an agricultural conference. He was accompanied by another man sitting in a parked car nearby.
The FBI began surveillance of Mo Hailong in April 2012. It was later revealed that he and his partners allegedly bought seed corn at various locations in the Midwest and rented storage units to hide the seed, which they intended to ship to their Illinois farm or back to China.
According to the Department of Justice, FISA was initially enacted in 1978 and sets out procedures for physical and electronic surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence information. Initially, FISA addressed only electronic surveillance but has been significantly amended to address the use of pen registers and trap and trace devices, physical searches and business records. It has been repeatedly amended since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Twitter is abuzz at the news, with some citing the use of FISA in the seed corn theft case as an example of government overreach.
For more information on the issue of intellectual property espionage in the seed industry, read Seed World’s recent story at
To read the article that appeared in the Des Moines Register, visit: