Jan 26, 2021 - World

DOJ considering amnesty for foreign funding disclosure

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Justice is considering an amnesty program that would allow researchers to disclose previous foreign funding without penalty, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The department is facing mounting criticism that its prosecutions of academics who failed to disclose China ties is too harsh.

Driving the news: Gang Chen, a professor of engineering at MIT, was arrested and charged with grant fraud on Jan. 14.

  • The latest in a string of similar indictments, this arrest has produced perhaps the most significant pushback so far. The MIT president and nearly 100 faculty members have signed a letter defending Chen, and a GoFundMe account has been opened to support him.

Some fear racial profiling. And some critics say the DOJ may be putting too many resources toward a relatively small issue compared to other threats, such as that posed by violent right-wing extremism.

  • "For years it’s been an open secret that some researchers with ties to China have been committing grant fraud and double-dipping," says Mara Hvistendahl, author of "The Scientist and the Spy," a book about Chinese industrial espionage and the FBI.
  • "But just because someone has dual appointments doesn’t mean that they’re leaking sensitive technology or even spending a lot of time in China. The problem is that these investigations are very resource-intensive and can have a chilling effect on research."

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