Recently, former DOJ officials involved in the program, among others, have called for an end to the effort or a major change in focus. When he testified in front of Congress on the matter, Attorney General Merrick Garland promised that the Justice Department would conduct a review of the program.
In this context, “if there had been an acquittal in this context” [the Lieber] In that case, things would have looked bad for the government, ”says Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University who has written extensively on the initiative.
But the underlying facts of the case were valid – especially given the footage in which Lieber admitted to FBI agents that he had received cash from a Chinese university, had a Chinese bank account and was (in his own words) not “completely transparent” to be every imagination ”when asked about these and other questions by Harvard administrators and government investigators.
These facts made the Lieber case an “outlier” among the China Initiative cases, according to a defense attorney who followed the case for clues to his own client’s impending trial. While not particularly useful in predicting how the government might handle future research integrity cases under the initiative, it has raised questions about a crucial component of the investigation – the recruitment programs.
Open questions about the Thousand Talents Program
The question of Liebers innocence can at least be clarified for the time being – his lawyer Marc Mukasey told reporters that they “respect the judgment but keep fighting,” suggesting a possible appeal – but the process has raised additional questions about the China Initiative itself, and particularly about the Chinese “talent programs” that led to such a test.
Talent programs are government-sponsored recruitment schemes that aim to attract foreign experts (also known as “talent”) to work in China. While US institutions have long promoted collaboration with Chinese universities, including collaboration on talent programs, the federal government has become increasingly concerned about them in recent years.
A 2019 Senate report found that China funded over 200 talent programs that collectively recruited over 7,000 participants. The report also warned that talent programs encouraged their members to “lie on US grant applications that have been set up.” ‘Shadow laboratories in China working on research identical to their US research, and in some cases transferring the hard-earned intellectual capital of US scientists. “
MIT Technology Review’s data investigation found that 19 of the 77 known cases of the China Initiative (25%) were due to suspicions that defendants had participated in Chinese talent programs. Meanwhile, fourteen of these talent program cases concerned alleged research integrity issues due to the fact that not all affiliations with Chinese companies were disclosed in the funding documents. In none of the 14 cases are allegations that the scientist in question transferred US intellectual property to China.
Despite the government’s suspicions of talent programs, it is not yet entirely clear whether disclosure of involvement in these is considered material or immaterial to the federal government.
The defender of the other China Initiative case, who was pursuing the process in order to better prepare his own client’s case and did not want to be named in order not to endanger this court hearing, hoped that this question would be clarified in the course of the trial. Without this clarification, some defendants could argue that they did not know the importance of reporting participation in talent programs yourself.
In the end, this was a contentious issue in Lieber’s trial: he had covered up his attendance and income from both Harvard University officials and government investigators, and the prosecutor did not have to clarify on file whether participation in the Thousand Talents Program had to be made or did not have to be reported.
“My ears are wide awake”
On the fifth day of the trial, Mukasey, Liebers defense attorney, asked Defense Department investigator Amy Mousseau a series of questions about her motivation to investigate the chemist. Is it true, Mukasey asked, that the Naval Research Laboratory had told Mousseau that Lieber had “too many Chinese students in his laboratory”?
“Yes,” replied Mousseau.
However, US Attorney James Drabick disagreed with the question, so Mukasey rephrased it. “Part of what Dr. Rather made an interviewee was that he had a lot of Chinese students, right? “
When Mousseau did not reply immediately, he continued, “In connection with the investigation, did you notice that Dr. Would you rather have many Chinese students in his laboratory, yes or no? “
“Yes,” replied Mousseau.
ONE Courtroom tweet In summary, the exchange “caught my ear,” said Lewis, the legal scholar, because “it is about this fundamental question, to what extent the government and US society in general are looking at ties to China as a reason for improved” suspicions? “”
It shows a “bias,” she adds, which contradicts what the Justice Department has long claimed: “Their actions are based solely on what people have done, on their behavior, and not on ethnicity, race, nationality, national origin or “one of these factors.”
But racial bias, which is well documented according to Michael German, a former FBI special agent who became a whistleblower and is a member of the Brennan Center for Justice, is not the only type of bias that this process exposes. Another problem he sees is selective law enforcement.
“I’m sure if the Justice Department put the same resources into identifying corporate executives rather than academics, they could find a lot more people who don’t properly report all of their income,” he says. “Tax evasion” – the subject of two of the charges on which Lieber was ultimately convicted – “is a problem, but it is not the problem that the China Initiative was supposed to solve.”
For many critics of the China Initiative, there are broader and more fundamental questions that each case – regardless of the outcome – illuminates.
Is “years in prison the sentence we as a society deem appropriate for such disclosure violations?” Asks Lewis, the legal scholar. The ruling does not speak of any other concern, she adds: that the China Initiative is creating “a larger threat narrative for people with ties to China.”
According to Lewis, it is to be expected that these questions will remain unresolved at the end of Lieber’s trial. “The trial was about Lieber’s individual guilt,” she says, “no political discussion about the China Initiative.”