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Iowa: Land Of Corn, Soybeans And Industrial Espionage

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

Revisit a conversation about how a story of international agricultural competition began in an Iowa cornfield.

Let’s go back to some news you may remember from several years ago. In 2011, two ethnic Chinese men were seen digging up seeds in a cornfield here in Iowa. When approached, they sped away in a hired car. At first, it was a routine report of trespassing. It quickly grew into a long FBI investigation that uncovered a plot by the Chinese agricultural company DBN, to reverse-engineer seed lines belonging to Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Mara Hvistendahl, author of the book "The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, The FBI, and Industrial Espionage." In a starred review, Booklist writes about the book, “Not since Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest has a cornfield produced so much excitement... Hvistendahl makes industrial espionage both understandable and riveting.”

This program was originally produced on April 14, 2020.


  • Mara Hvistendahl, author, "The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI and Industrial Espionage"
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River