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CSAF issues warning of PLA recruitment of US Air Force members, veterans

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

In a memorandum released Sept. 8, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., issued a stark warning about a growing threat to national security – the recruitment and exploitation of current and former Air Force members by the People's Liberation Army of China, or PLA.

The memorandum also explains that individuals who accept contracts with foreign companies may be imposing risks to national security that could have legal and criminal implications.

“Our vastly superior capabilities and overwhelming airpower are key in deterring increasingly aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific and, if necessary, defeating threats,” Brown said. “I have made it clear since publishing the original CSAF Action Orders that I am committed to ensuring Airmen have what is required to compete, deter, and win in a high-end fight.”

Brown stated that the PLA is seeking to exploit the expertise of current and former U.S. Airmen to bridge capability gaps throughout their ranks.

“As you may have seen in the news, foreign companies are targeting and recruiting U.S. and NATO-trained military talent across specialties and career fields to train the PLA abroad to fill gaps in their military capabilities,” Brown said.

Brown called on Airmen past and present to remain hyperaware to ensure the U.S. Air Force continues to remain the world’s greatest airpower. While this risk may seem minimal to some, according to an unnamed Air Force Office of Special Investigations supervisory special agent, multiple members of the U.S. military who span several specialties are currently being targeted for recruitment by PLA-associated companies.

The Department of the Air Force has taken recent steps to exclude partnerships with companies and organizations associated with the PLA in which members could be targeted and is working to ensure PLA-associated companies cannot receive work as sub-contractors.

As recently as June 2023, the U.S. government placed the Test Flying Academy of South Africa on an export control list based on its work to facilitate training and technical support for the PLA using a former U.S. military member. This suspension of the company also curtails its ability to recruit military members of U.S. partner nations for the PLA and acts as a deterrent to other companies considering providing these services.

The OSI agent said that attempts to exploit servicemembers are not always obvious. Signs of PLA recruiting efforts may include contracts that seem “too good to be true” or lack information about the ultimate customers of said contract.

The PLA may use seemingly innocuous business deals or tech partnerships to exploit veterans with valuable skills, which could gradually pull them into covert activities that serve the interests of the Chinese government. These opportunities may be advertised on typical job listings or professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn or Indeed, and targeted headhunting emails are being sent directly to the inboxes of individuals with desired skill sets. 

The agent also stated that the CSAF memorandum should serve as a wake-up call to Airmen, emphasizing the vital role each servicemember plays in safeguarding national security. He stated that by being vigilant and reporting suspicious recruitment efforts, Airmen can continue to uphold their duty to serve and protect the United States and its allies from those seeking to exploit their knowledge and skills for nefarious purposes. 

If you or someone you know is being targeted for recruitment or has been recruited to train foreign militaries, it is crucial to act swiftly. Contact your local Air Force Office of Special Investigations detachment directly or submit a report here.