Tuesday, December 21, 2021

g-f(2)746 THE BIG PICTURE OF THE DIGITAL AGE (12/21/2021), WSJ, The U.S. Pursued Professors Working With China. Cases Are Faltering.

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"g-f" fishing of golden knowledge (GK) of the fabulous treasure of the digital ageDigital Transformation, Lost intellectual property (12/21/2021)  g-f(2)426 

Warning, WSJ 

The federal government has estimated that each year more than $225 billion in intellectual property is lost to China. National-security officials have said publicly that U.S. universities are a key conduit in that loss of technology.

  • The government’s pursuit of academics for alleged lying about their affiliations has faltered. The first such case to go to a jury ended in an acquittal. Out of 24 other cases, nine defendants have pleaded guilty. Charges have been dropped completely in six others, five of which officials said they dismissed because the scientists involved already had been sufficiently punished by being detained or otherwise restricted for a year.
    • The rest are pending, including one against a professor at Harvard University who went on trial on Dec. 14. By comparison, about 92% of the Justice Department’s overall white-collar prosecutions end in convictions.
  • MIT professor’s academic collaboration in Shenzhen led to criminal charges, but the university says such ties are ordinary practice.
  • In 2019, federal prosecutors began charging academics with lying to U.S. grant-giving agencies about their China connections. In the summer of 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that the agency was opening a China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours, and warned that Americans “are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

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Lessons learned, WSJ 

  • The U.S. effort seems to have helped Beijing attract Chinese-American scientists to China. More than half a dozen top researchers of Chinese descent said in interviews they had either moved from posts at U.S. universities to China or were looking for a chance to do so, saying they feared becoming a target of what they viewed as Justice Department overreach.
  • American officials urged universities to more thoroughly vet certain types of collaborative research with institutions in China, citing Chinese law that allows the government to tap any technology or research conducted under such collaborations to advance its own interests.
  • Professors at MIT and SUSTech are continuing their collaborations. University officials say they are still working to figure out how to respond to the growing calls to decouple the U.S. and Chinese economies while maintaining a welcoming research environment.
  • At an October hearing on research security before a House subcommittee, MIT’s vice president for research, Maria Zuber, said law enforcement and the university would benefit from better understanding each other, given the differences in the ways they work and share information. “It’s a work in progress,” she said.

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Lessons learned, WSJ 

  • By the mid-2010s, MIT was cultivating ties with China. It received $125 million from Chinese nationals and organizations between 2015 and 2019, more than any of its university peers, according to self-reported data collected by the Education Department. It also received around $11 million from now-blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., other Education Department data show. The U.S. government alleges that Huawei gear could be used by Beijing to spy globally, which Huawei has denied.
  • In January 2020, Gang Chen and about two dozen other professors and students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology traveled to Shenzhen, China, to talk about overlapping university research, visit local companies and interview students interested in studying at MIT.
  • When Mr. Chen landed back at Boston’s Logan airport, Customs and Border Protection agents pulled him aside, seized his laptop and two cellphones and began asking him what he had been doing in China and why. Mr. Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering and an American citizen, told them he had been collaborating with a Chinese university and that all his research had been conducted in the U.S.
  • One year later, he was arrested on charges of concealing extensive ties to China in grant applications he had made to the U.S. government. It was one of a string of attention-grabbing cases brought by the Justice Department to address suspicions that the Chinese government was exploiting academic ties to engage in technological espionage.
    • As agents investigated Mr. Chen, they suspected he had pursued the collaboration at SUSTech not to benefit MIT but to benefit China, according to people familiar with the matter.
    • “The allegations of the complaint imply that this was not just about greed, but about loyalty to China,” said Andrew Lelling, then the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, in announcing the case.
    • In a later filing, lawyers for Mr. Chen, who became a naturalized American citizen in 2000, described Mr. Lelling’s “speculation” about Mr. Chen’s loyalty as “grossly insulting.”
    • From the moment that charges were filed, MIT has offered vigorous defenses of its professor and the university’s SUSTech collaboration, saying such cooperation was crucial to advancing science. MIT President Rafael Reif called the arrest “deeply distressing and hard to understand.”
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland, questioned by a lawmaker in October about the cases, said the new head of the Justice Department’s national security division planned to review the department’s approach to countering threats posed by the Chinese government. A spokesman said that review would be completed soon, and the agency would provide additional information in the coming weeks.
  • Chinese officials have called on the U.S. to halt the effort. In a written statement, Liu Pengyu, a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said that China’s policies in connection with U.S. scientists “are no different from the common practice of other countries,” and that U.S. authorities should “stop stigmatizing China’s programs.” The embassy didn’t comment on the details of Mr. Chen’s case.

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