Feb 5, 2020 - World

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."

The spate of investigations, largely of ethnic Chinese scientists and researchers, has raised fears that another era of race-based targeting may be nigh.

  • 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

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 5,931,112 — Total deaths: 357,929 — Total recoveries — 2,388,172Map.
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  4. Public health: Louisiana Sen. Cassidy wants more frequent testing of nursing home workers.
  5. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.
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Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was brought to Wuhan by the U.S. military, directing users to "get the facts about COVID-19."

Why it matters: The labels were added after criticism that Twitter had fact-checked tweets from President Trump about mail-in voting, but not other false claims from Chinese Communist Party officials and other U.S. adversaries.

Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter, round two

President Trump is escalating his response to Twitter’s fact check of his recent tweets about mail-in voting, issuing an executive order that's designed to begin limiting social media's liability protections. Dan digs in with Axios' Margaret Harding McGill.

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