Discover more from Matthew's Notebook
A (not very subtle) American soldier (allegedly) tries to spy for China
The indictment against accused defector Joseph Daniel Schmidt involves some bizarre Google searches.
Government records are usually boring, but when they’re interesting, they’re interesting. Followers of this blog will know that, because I’ve written articles based on the Bob Menéndez indictment and old surveillance records on Iranian-American dissidents. Today, the FBI unveiled charges against an American soldier accused of defecting to China with sensitive information.
Or at least, trying to. U.S. Army intelligence sergeant Joseph Daniel Schmidt allegedly emailed the Chinese government offering to “share information I learned during my career as an interrogator,” and visited China with sensitive computer equipment. He is charged with “attempting to deliver national defense information,” a lesser crime than espionage.
The FBI also found Word documents on his iCloud account, written while he was in Beijing, titled “Important Information to Share with Chinese Government” and “High Level Secrets.” Schmidt’s alleged Google searches, however, are the wildest part of the indictment. While on a February 2020 trip to Turkey, he allegedly:
• Searched “chinese consulate”
• Searched “soldier defect”
• Searched “chinese embassy”
• Visited “http://istanbul.china-consulate.org/tur”
• Searched “iranian consulate”
• Searched “iranian embassy”
• Visited web page: “Chinese Consulate-General in Istanbul (Turkey)”
• Searched “chinese.consulate number doesn’t go through”
• Searched “turkey extradition military defection”
• Searched “countries that dont extradite”
• Searched “can [specified U.S. Person] be extradited”
• Searched “can you be extradited for treason”
• Searched “iran visa”
• Searched “afghanistan visa”
• Searched “pakistan resident visa”
• Searched “russian visa costs”
• Searched “countries with most negative relations with US”
• Visited web page: “Ten Countries That Hate America Most – 24/7 Wall St”
• Searched “chinese embassy Istanbul”
• Searched “how did [specified U.S. Person] defect”
• Visited: “They wanted me gone: [specified U.S. Person] tells of whistleblowing”
• Searched “chinese embassy”
• Searched “what is china's intelligence agency”
• Visited: “https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_State_Security_(China)”
• Searched “subreddit spying”
• Visited on Reddit: “looking_for_a_subreddit_about_spy_stuff”
• Searched “russian embassy Istanbul”
• Visited web page: “Consulate General of Russia in Istanbul, Turkey”
The indictment claims that Schmidt emailed the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, and looked up directions from the Beijing airport to the Chinese intelligence headquarters. A few weeks later, in China, he allegedly:
• Searched “interrogation field manual”
• Searched “fm human intelligence”
• Visited webpage: “If it’s Spy, it’s here – Reddit”
• Visited: “Espionage – Reddit”
• Visited: “What Do Real Spies Do and How are they Recruited – Reddit”
• Visited: “I am [specified U.S. Person 2] a Former Covert CIA – Reddit”
For an intelligence officer traveling on his own to two politically-sensitive places, Schmidt seemed pretty unconcerned with the possibility that intelligence agencies might be monitoring his computer. Nor did he seem to care that Google and iCloud are run by American companies, so anything he did with those accounts would be within reach for U.S. investigators.
Schmidt’s motives remain unclear. They probably weren’t ideological. (After all, he allegedly googled a list of countries that hate America, and looked for the one with the best visa policy.) According to the indictment, Schmidt typed into the Google search bar in February 2019:
if it doesn’t stop im going straight to china. I’m not taking anymore of this because someone literally thought I looked funny after they spiked my drink
That’s right, the Google search bar. Not a social media account or a forum. He was (allegedly) using Google as his diary. Even the FBI seemed pretty puzzled. “FBI agents have interviewed Army personnel familiar with SCHMIDT and have not been able to learn any information relating to the context of this Google search,” the indictment states.
Whatever Schmidt was trying to accomplish in China, he apparently did not get very far. The indictment states that he has been living in Hong Kong on an expired visa and has spent the past three years trying to resolve his immigration status. Schmidt finally returned to the United States last week, and was arrested at the airport in San Francisco.
Espionage history is filled with these kinds of stories. For all the ideological believers and pure mercenaries, there’s about as many weirdos with poor impulse control. Someone whose life is going badly may be tempted to sell out to foreign enemies. It rarely ends well.
Thanks for reading Matthew's Notebook! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.