The FBI is walking a tightrope on China
FBI special agent in charge John F. Bennett in a Sept. 30 news conference, announcing charges in a Chinese espionage case. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The U.S. government is trying to solve a difficult problem: How to protect scientific research from China-linked theft, without quashing international collaboration or resorting to racial profiling.
Driving the news: Last week federal prosecutors charged Charles Lieber, chair of the Harvard University chemistry department, with lying about funds he obtained through a Chinese government recruitment program.
- Lieber is a rare case of a non-Chinese person arrested for failing to disclose China ties.
Background: Working with the National Institutes of Health, the FBI launched a sweeping investigation into research institutions' links to China last year.
A recent report proposes existing disclosure practices should be enough to address foreign influence in research, including problems with coercion and theft.
- But the process of disclosure isn't standardized across agencies and institutions and can be unclear for researchers.
- "Improving disclosure and transparency is probably the most important recommendation," Remco Zwetsloot of Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology said of the report from the JASON program at MITRE Corp. "Universities and scientists are asking for clarification in guidance and standardization across the agencies."
- Former China correspondent Mara Hvistendahl reveals in her new book "The Scientist and the Spy," out yesterday, that in the height of the Cold War the FBI spent years spying on Chinese scientists and students in the United States. Some lost their careers permanently without ever facing formal charges.
The bottom line: Law enforcement officials have to tread carefully to protect U.S. research and civil rights.
Go deeper: The stakes of a swift U.S.-China decoupling