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

Go deeper

Updated 22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota COVID cases traced to 3 Trump campaign events
  6. World: Restrictions grow across Europe.
  7. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.

Republicans and Dems react to Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation

President Trump stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett after she took the constitutional oath to serve as a Supreme Court justice during a White House ceremony Monday night .Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Trump said Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court and her subsequent taking of the constitutional oath Monday was a "momentous day," as she she vowed to serve "without any fear or favour."

  • But as Republicans applauded the third conservative justice in four years, many Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) warned of consequences to the rush to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of the Nov. 3 election, with progressives leading calls to expand the court.
Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Science

CRISPR pioneer: "Science is on the ballot" in 2020

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In her three decades in science, Jennifer Doudna said she has seen a gradual erosion of trust in the profession, but the recent Nobel Prize winner told "Axios on HBO" that the institution itself has been under assault from the current administration.

  • "I think science is on the ballot," Doudna said in the interview.

Why it matters: That has manifested itself in everything from how the federal government approaches climate change to the pandemic.