Mysterious Firm Buying Land Around California Air Base, Stirs National Security Concerns

Amid growing fears about Chinese government-backed businesses purchasing land around U.S. military sites, new questions are being raised about an unknown investment company in California that’s buying up large parcels of land around a major U.S. Air Force base. 

The firm known as Flannery Associates LLC has bought around $800 million worth of land around Travis Air Force Base in northern California’s Solano County, which is midway between Sacramento and San Francisco, according to The Hill

Since 2018, Flannery registered as an agricultural company, has purchased more than 50,000 acres in Solano County, according to public records and detailed maps obtained by The Hill. The acquired property runs directly up to Travis Air Force Base.

The controversy was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in July. 

The company drew the attention of congressional lawmakers after it sued a group of landowners in May, accusing them of conspiring to boost the value of the property. 

One of those lawmakers, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Hill that he has been investigating the land acquisitions for nearly two years and has come up with few answers to his questions.

“We have no idea who they are,” Garamendi said. “Flannery Associates is opaque. We have no idea where the nearly $900 million has come from. They bought well over 55,000 acres of land in the area and {the purchase} raises a major concern.”

“Literally three sides of that base are totally controlled by the Flannery group,” Garamendi told ABC7. He called it “reason to be concerned.” 

Registered in Delaware, the firm claims that 97 percent of its investors are U.S.-based, but Garamendi said there is no way to verify that claim, according to The Hill.

The company’s business address is located at a packaging shop in a shopping center in Folsom, CA, according to the business registrar for the state, the outlet reported. 

“Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base” is unfounded, an attorney representing the company told The Journal

But why is the land being purchased?  According to Garamendi, the $800 million sales price seems high for land considered good for grazing. 

“Who are these people?” Garamendi told ABC7. “Where did they get the money where they could pay five to ten times the normal value that others would pay for this farmland?” 

The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review office is reviewing the land purchases by Flannery, including around Travis Air Force Base for the last eight months and has yet to determine who is backing the group, The Journal reported. 

“Nobody can figure out who they are,” Ronald Kott, mayor of nearby Rio Vista, which is now largely surrounded by Flannery land, told the outlet. “Whatever they’re doing – this looks like a very long-term play.”

Chinese Ownership of American Land Continues to Draw Scrutiny

As CBN News reported in July, China owns nearly 384,000 acres across the U.S. Recent purchases of land near military bases have raised concerns both in Congress and in several state legislatures about a rising national security threat. 

Earlier this year, Grand Forks, North Dakota council members voted to stop a $700 million Chinese-owned agricultural project by Fufeng USA.  

At first, it seemed like it would be a great economic boon for the city, but that economic glow faded sharply, however, after the U.S. Air Force weighed in. Fufeng USA is a subsidiary of “Fufeng Group Limited” based in China.

“We received a letter from the Air Force, saying that they have national security concerns, and at that point, the city took action to stop the project,” Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski told CBN News. 

The land at the heart of the controversy is around 370 acres in Grand Forks’ agribusiness park. The Fufeng Group wanted to build a wet corn mill there.

The property is about 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

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Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Andrew Hunter wrote, “The proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”

The Grand Forks Air Force Base is home to military activities involving both air and space operations.

Critics have raised concerns of espionage over allegations the Fufeng Group has direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party. U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) did not mince words during an interview on Newsmax.

“If you look at the CEO, the president of Fufeng is in fact a very active member of the CCP, and he’s received high recognition for being a model member of the CCP,” Cramer said. “So it’s not just one sort of fringe element; this really is very intertwined.” 

While Fufeng officials deny the plant would be used for espionage, state Rep. Eric James Murphy (R-Grand Forks) had suspicions about the land purchase and supports the Air Force’s assessment.

“I share their concern, right, I think the biggest thing is, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why Grand Forks? Why not Fargo?’ We’re at the very northern edge of corn. Yeah, you get some corn, but the yield really starts going down the further north you go,” Murphy shared with CBN News.

“There’s some missions at our Air Force Base that aren’t really publicized that are very, very, very, very important to our national security and are also very important to maintain the secrecy and the elements for them to be able to carry out those,” he continued. 

“And it’s all in the communications world,” Murphy added.

State legislatures have considered measures to address foreign ownership of U.S. land, especially after the high-profile Chinese spy balloon flew over the country earlier this year. In April, North Dakota took action, passing a law banning adversary nations from owning land in the state. 

“I think we have to be careful when we talk about foreign ownership, and so in North Dakota, we went to foreign adversaries, which is a federally defined list,” explained Murphy.

As CBN News has reported, a new bipartisan bill by U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is an attempt to push back against the growing Chinese acquisition of U.S. farmland.

Also on the federal level, a proposed rule change would require foreign citizens and companies to get U.S. government approval to purchase property within 100 miles of eight military bases, including the Grand Forks Air Force Base.