FBI officials have advised at least 10 American universities since 2018 to monitor certain Chinese nationals amid fears that Chinese propaganda is seeping into U.S. academia.
But administrators of the institutions the FBI briefed, which are member schools of the Association of American Universities (AAU), have pushed back on the FBI’s non-mandatory advice due to their skepticism of the threat posed by visiting Chinese students and scholars affiliated with Chinese state-affiliated research institutions, NPR reported Friday.
“We are being asked what processes are in place to know what labs they are working at or what information they are being exposed to,” Fred Cate, vice president of research at Indiana University, told NPR. “It’s not a question of just looking for suspicious behavior — it’s actually really targeting specific countries and the people from those countries.”
AAU membership includes Texas A&M, which the Department of Education is currently scrutinizing for failing to fully capture the hundreds of millions of dollars it has received from foreign governments in its disclosures.
The Department of Education ordered Texas A&M in a May 13 letter to disclose funding received from Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies suspected of spying.
The FBI has been sounding the alarm on Chinese scholars in the U.S. since at least 2018.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a February 2018 congressional hearing that China is “exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it.”
At least 30 Chinese scholars have had their visas to the U.S. canceled or put in administrative review since 2018, The New York Times reported in April.
“They may feel we know too much about the United States,” one of the Chinese scholars whose visa was canceled, Lu Xiang, told The NYT.
A bipartisan Senate investigative committee released a report in February that found a large percentage of U.S. universities had violated the law by hiding its foreign funding sources.
“Since 2006, the Subcommittee determined China directly provided over $158 million in funding to U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes,” the report said. “The Department of Education requires all post-secondary schools to report foreign gifts of $250,000 or more from a single source within a calendar year of receiving them. Despite that legal requirement, nearly 70 percent of U.S. schools that received more than $250,000 from Hanban failed to properly report that amount.”
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