Our analysis shows a significant shift in focus to academics, beginning in 2019 and through 2020. In 2018, there was no question of the integrity of research. By 2020 it was 16 of the 31 (52%) newly reported cases. (A research integrity case in 2020 also included an EEA violation charge.)
At least 14 of these research integrity cases began on suspicion of links to “talent programs,” in which Chinese universities provide financial incentives for academics to research, teach, or bring other activities back to the sponsoring institution. or full-time basis. (At least four cases of trade secret theft include alleged participation in talent programs.)
Federal officials have repeatedly said that participating in talent programs is not illegal – although they have also referred to them as “brain gain programs,” in the words of Bill Priestap, the FBI’s former deputy head of counterintelligence, who “make theft mental Promote Property of US Institutions ”. . “
Cases indicted under the China Initiative by year
Links with national security are sometimes weak.
The initiative’s increasing focus on research integrity includes multiple cases of scientists working on topics such as artificial intelligence or robotics that may have national security applications. But most of the work in these areas is basic research, and many of the disciplines in which cases have been raised have no clear national security link.
Nine out of 23 cases of research integrity affect health and medical researchers, including those studying heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer; six of them focused on NIH-funded researchers – a reflection of the institute’s aggressive stance on combating “undue influence by foreign governments on government-funded research,” said a representative from the NIH Office of Extramural Research. NIH’s efforts predate the China initiative and the representative referred questions about the initiative to the Department of Justice.
Allegedly defrauded funding agencies in cases of research integrity
Instead, the national security implications seem to focus on concerns that those with ties to China may serve as “nontraditional collectors” described in the China Initiative datasheet as “researchers in laboratories, universities and the defense industry base” compelled to transfer technology contrary to US interests. ”But, as our database shows, only two out of 22 researchers have ever been accused of attempting to illegally obtain information or smuggle goods into China. The charges were later dropped.
China Initiative cases are not as successful as the DoJ claims
Three years after the program started, less than a third of the China Initiative defendants have been convicted. Of the 148 people charged, only 40 have pleaded guilty or found guilty, with counts often lower than those originally made. Almost two thirds of the cases – 64% – are still pending. And of the 95 people still charged, 71 are not actively prosecuted because the defendant is in an unknown location or cannot be extradited.
In particular, many of the cases involving research integrity have failed. While eight are pending, seven trials against academics have resulted in dismissal or acquittal, and six in admission of guilty or conviction. This is in sharp contrast to the usual results of federal criminal cases, where the vast majority end with an admission of guilt, according to an analysis of federal statistics by the Pew Research Center.
Results for Defendants Charged under the China Initiative
Almost 90% of all cases are directed against people of Chinese origin
One of the earliest and most persistent criticisms of the China initiative was that it could lead to an increase in racist profiling against people of Chinese descent, Asian Americans, and Asian immigrants. DOJ officials have repeatedly denied the China Initiative’s involvement in racial profiling, but the initiative disproportionately affects people of Chinese origin, including American citizens.
Our analysis shows that of the 148 people indicted under the China Initiative, 130 – or 88% – are of Chinese descent. These include American citizens who are ethnic Chinese and citizens of the People’s Republic of China, as well as citizens and others with ties to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and long-standing Chinese diaspora communities in Southeast Asia.
Defendants of the Chinese Heritage
Those numbers are “really high,” said Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University who has written extensively on the China initiative. “We knew it would be a majority,” she added, but that “only underscores that the argument, ‘but we also persecute other people’ … is not convincing.”
New cases are still being brought under the Biden administration
The initiative was launched under the Trump administration, and although the number of cases explicitly linked to the China initiative has decreased since President Joe Biden took office, they have not stopped.
For example, Mingqing Xiao, a math professor in Illinois, was charged in April 2021 for failing to reveal ties to a Chinese university when he applied for a National Science Foundation grant. In July, indictments against four Chinese citizens of hacking attacks on dozen of companies and research institutes were published.
Meanwhile, the federal prosecutors have pushed the prosecution further. The trial of Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemistry professor accused of hiding his ties to Chinese universities, is set to begin in mid-December. Prosecutors plan to appear on trial against high-profile academics in Kansas, Arkansas and elsewhere in the first few months of 2022.
New cases brought by the China Initiative in 2021
How it started
Concerns about Chinese industrial espionage targeting the United States have been growing for years, with estimates of the cost to the American economy ranging from $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion and up to $ 600 billion. Enforcement began to rise dramatically under the Obama administration: when the government announced a new strategy to curb US trade secret theft in 2013, China was mentioned more than 100 times.
In 2014, the Justice Department brought cyber espionage charges against five hackers affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – the first time US state actors have been prosecuted for hacking attacks. Then in 2015, the United States and China signed a historic agreement in which they pledged not to conduct commercial cyber theft against each other’s companies.
But it wasn’t until 2018, as part of the Trump administration’s far more confrontational approach to China, that the ministry officially launched its first country-specific program.
The effort was “data-driven,” said the former Justice Department official, “emerging from intelligence intelligence from the Attorney General and senior DOJ executives at the FBI, showing day in and day out that the PRC and affiliated actors everywhere were on The Blackboard [were] deeply implicated in hacking, industrial espionage, trade secret theft, undermining our export controls, and non-traditional collection methods. ”He said this includes Chinese consulates which are helping“ to mask the real background of Chinese visa applicants for visa denials to avoid their membership in the military of the People’s Republic of China ”.
Trump had, however, fought in part with anti-Chinese and anti-communist rhetoric – he infamously said at a rally in 2016: “We cannot continue to allow China to rape our country, and they do.”
In the months leading up to the initiative’s launch, Trump reportedly told a group of corporate executives over a behind-closed-door dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate that “almost everyone” [Chinese] A student who comes to this country is a spy. “
With this in mind, Sessions announced the start of the China Initiative on November 1, 2018.