FBI Wary of Russian Spies Lurking in US High-Tech Companies
During the heady days of the U.S. "reset" policy with Russia, the high-tech sector emerged as a potential centerpiece for bilateral commercial and scientific cooperation, underscored by Internet-savvy Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's 2010 visit to Silicon Valley.

But a surge of Russian cash into the U.S. tech sector in recent years has prompted federal authorities to alert start-ups in a key American innovation cradle about potential espionage via Russian venture capital firms financing their operations.

The Boston division of the FBI is taking this warning to U.S. tech firms with Russian funding, and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a partner of Russia's Skolkovo initiative, which was launched in 2010 to create a Russian version of Silicon Valley.

Lucia Ziobro, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, specifically cited Skolkovo's relationship with Russian truckmaker KamAz, which supplies armored vehicles to the Russian military, as possibly worrying.

"As far as the Skolkovo institute is concerned, you have foreign defense contractors in the same sort of area of business that could potentially result in U.S. technology being acquired by that Russian defense firm, and then being given to the government," Ziobro said.

Russian government-backed investors in the United States have dismissed the FBI's warnings as baseless, and the agency has not presented evidence of Russia using venture capital fund to steal technology.

Ziobro said her office's discussions with start-ups and research hubs with Russian partners was part of a broader outreach program to inform the tech sector of the possible dangers of working with foreign investors.

"Our outreach talks about the general foreign intelligence threat, be it from China, be it from Russia, be it from, you know, any other country," she said.

The Russians are here

The FBI's Boston office began calling attention to Russian tech investment in the United States following a white paper it produced on the subject late last year, Ziobro said.

The office then issued a notice to Boston-area technology companies, colleges and universities identifying partnerships with Russian entities and venture capital companies as potential vehicles for Russian espionage.

Then, in an op-ed published the "Boston Business Journal" last month, Ziobro urged U.S. companies to remain vigilant when deciding whether to partner with Russian investors, specifically citing the Skolkovo Foundation, which oversees the development of the high-tech center currently under construction outside Moscow.

"The foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation's sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications,"
Ziobro wrote in the op-ed.

Aside from Skolkovo, Ziobro did not identify any other Russian entities specializing in the high-tech sector in her op-ed. But two investments vehicles funded by the Russian government have a presence in Massachusetts, home to thriving technology and biotech industries.

In 2011, state-funded Rusnano, a $10 billion fund focusing on nanotechnology, invested a total of $50 million in Boston-area nanomedicine firms, BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences.

The same year it invested $35 million in the Boston renewable fuels firm Joule Unlimited.

BIND declined to comment on the FBI warnings, while Selecta and Joule did not respond to inquiries.

Rusnano currently has $1.2 billion invested in U.S. companies, including biotech, energy, coating and hardware firms, Evgeny Druzyaka, vice president of Rusnano USA, said.

During the heady days of the U.S. "reset" policy with Russia, the high-tech sector emerged as a potential centerpiece for bilateral commercial and scientific cooperation, underscored by Internet-savvy Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's 2010 visit to Silicon Valley.

But a surge of Russian cash into the U.S.


tech sector in recent years has prompted federal authorities to alert start-ups in a key American innovation cradle about potential espionage via Russian venture capital firms financing their operations.

The Boston division of the FBI is taking this warning to U.S. tech firms with Russian funding, and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a partner of Russia's Skolkovo initiative, which was launched in 2010 to create a Russian version of Silicon Valley.

Lucia Ziobro, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, specifically cited Skolkovo's relationship with Russian truckmaker KamAz, which supplies armored vehicles to the Russian military, as possibly worrying.

"As far as the Skolkovo institute is concerned, you have foreign defense contractors in the same sort of area of business that could potentially result in U.S. technology being acquired by that Russian defense firm, and then being given to the government," Ziobro said.

Russian government-backed investors in the United States have dismissed the FBI's warnings as baseless, and the agency has not presented evidence of Russia using venture capital fund to steal technology.

Ziobro said her office's discussions with start-ups and research hubs with Russian partners was part of a broader outreach program to inform the tech sector of the possible dangers of working with foreign investors.

"Our outreach talks about the general foreign intelligence threat, be it from China, be it from Russia, be it from, you know, any other country," she said.

The Russians are here

The FBI's Boston office began calling attention to Russian tech investment in the United States following a white paper it produced on the subject late last year, Ziobro said.

The office then issued a notice to Boston-area technology companies, colleges and universities identifying partnerships with Russian entities and venture capital companies as potential vehicles for Russian espionage.

Then, in an op-ed published the "Boston Business Journal" last month, Ziobro urged U.S. companies to remain vigilant when deciding whether to partner with Russian investors, specifically citing the Skolkovo Foundation, which oversees the development of the high-tech center currently under construction outside Moscow.

"The foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation's sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications,"
Ziobro wrote in the op-ed.

Aside from Skolkovo, Ziobro did not identify any other Russian entities specializing in the high-tech sector in her op-ed. But two investments vehicles funded by the Russian government have a presence in Massachusetts, home to thriving technology and biotech industries.

In 2011, state-funded Rusnano, a $10 billion fund focusing on nanotechnology, invested a total of $50 million in Boston-area nanomedicine firms, BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences.

The same year it invested $35 million in the Boston renewable fuels firm Joule Unlimited.

BIND declined to comment on the FBI warnings, while Selecta and Joule did not respond to inquiries.

Rusnano currently has $1.2 billion invested in U.S. companies, including biotech, energy, coating and hardware firms, Evgeny Druzyaka, vice president of Rusnano USA, said.