For days after his FBI interrogation, Wei Su wondered: where had the microphone been? The agents had played him a scratchy recording of a conversation he’d had with a friend at a restaurant in Eatontown, New Jersey. Both men found it strange when an unasked-for pot of hot tea arrived at their table, but only later did Su, an award-winning scientist for the United States Army’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate, form a hypothesis. He thinks the teapot was bugged.
On the recording, Su says, he can be heard telling his friend in Chinese to always use English when they spoke on the phone because the government was monitoring his calls. “When you work with us, you need to be careful,” he warned. Su says the FBI demanded to know if “us” was a reference to Chinese intelligence. No, he answered, “us” simply meant his employer, the army.
Nevertheless, questions about Su’s loyalty would propel a multi-year investigation that, in 2016, prompted the US Department of Defence to revoke the top-secret security clearance he’d held for 24 years. He retired the next year: humiliated, angry and, the Pentagon later admitted, completely innocent.