FBI warns students abroad against being recruited as spy

FBI video warns American students abroad agai... 02:55

In a cautionary tale for Americans studying abroad, the FBI released a 28-minute spy film called "Game of Pawns." Its low production value may make it look like a parody, but it's meant to be a PSA about foreign intelligence networks recruiting Americans, reports CBS News' Margaret Brennan.

One of the film's inspirations is the real-life story of Glenn Shriver, who in 2004 was a 22-year-old studying in Shanghai. The Michigan native found a seemingly innocuous job online -- writing papers on U.S.-China relations.

"It was free money, no strings attached," the film said.

Over time, the job description changed. Shriver accepted $70,000 from Chinese operatives and agreed to apply for U.S. government jobs in order to gain access to classified information. By then, the FBI was on to him.

He was arrested in 2010 and pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to spy. He is now serving a four-year prison sentence.

"Recruitment is going on, don't fool yourself," Shriver said in an FBI interview from prison.

He warned students not to make the same mistakes he did.

"If someone's offering you money and it feels like you don't have to do anything for that money, then there's probably a hook in there that you're not seeing," Shriver said.

The FBI won't say how many students have been turned into spies but said they are increasingly being targeted. It's a shift from traditional insider recruits like convicted spies Robert Hanssen, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, and Aldrich Ames, who ran the CIA's Soviet counterintelligence unit.

Former U.S. intelligence official Philip Mudd said a student can be an easy mark.

"That's a pretty big pool to recruit from, that's a fairly naive pool. They're a lot easier to go after in terms of recruitment than trying to go out after a few people at the Department of Defense or the CIA.

University students may also have access to academic research in science and technology that can prove as valuable as any state secrets.

"Now they just shifted the places where they try to steal information. It reflects a revolution in the spy business," Mudd said.

China is not the only country using these tactics. Mudd said the Russians, Iranians and Cubans are also targeting Americans.