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

Go deeper

Harvard scientist charged with lying about ties to China

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Federal prosecutors have charged Charles Lieber, chair of the Harvard University chemistry department, with lying about funds he obtained through a Chinese government recruitment program.

Why it matters: Lieber's arrest marks one of the highest-profile cases yet in a sweeping U.S. government investigation of undisclosed ties between U.S. research institutions and China.

Go deeperArrowJan 28, 2020

New book unveils China's formidable spy agencies

Credit: U.S. Naval Institute

Chinese espionage hinges on a sophisticated network of spies focused on state-sponsored tech theft, according to a new book that dispels outdated theories of how Beijing collects intelligence around the world.

Why it matters: Old tropes cast all ethnic Chinese as potential amateur spies, a belief which has led to racial profiling. In reality, China's intelligence agencies employ highly trained professionals who operate much like spies from any other country.

Go deeperArrowFeb 5, 2020 - World

Pompeo warns of mass Chinese spying in grim message to governors

Photo: Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech to the National Governors Association Saturday that governors should be vigilant in their business interactions with China, warning that they're each being methodically analyzed and lobbied by the Communist Party, Politico reports.

Why it matters: Pompeo, who has helped shape the Trump administration's hawkish stance toward China, was seeking to highlight how competition with Beijing is not just a federal issue.

Go deeperArrowFeb 9, 2020 - World