Corporate espionage ... in an Iowa cornfield? Federal agents caught an alleged Chinese spy last week trying to smuggle highly valuable "inbred" cord seeds out of the country, prosecutors say. Mo Hailong is accused of stealing the seeds from fields in Illinois and Iowa and trying to evade FBI agents after dropping off seeds at a rented storage facility, reports the Des Moines Register. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine for stealing trade secrets worth up to $40 million. What's the big deal? Inbred seeds possess certain special qualities, like resistance to droughts or pests, reports the Smithsonian.
"It’s really the foundation for Iowa agriculture, so it’s really something that we need to protect," says an Iowa professor. The FBI started investigating Mo—who works for a Chinese conglomerate with a corn seed company—when DuPont Pioneer officials say they saw him on his knees in a newly planted field. Mo was "very nervous and his face was flushed" when confronted, a manager said. Mo allegedly toured Pioneer and Monsanto facilities under an alias and later bought seeds from both companies. And he wasn't alone: Agents also stopped three alleged accomplices trying to leave the country with seeds, but so far only Mo has been charged. (Read more corporate espionage stories.)