Over 500 federally-funded U.S. scientists are under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign entities, according to testimony from the National Institute of Health Thursday.
Federal health officials testified to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that they are working to combat communist China’s efforts to use American researchers and steal intellectual property, the Washington Times reported.
Michael S. Lauer, M.D. Deputy Director for Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, said they have already contacted 90 federally-funded institutions and more than 200 scientists.
“The individuals violating laws and policies represent a small proportion of scientists working in and with U.S. institutions,” Lauer said. “We must ensure that our responses to this issue do not create a hostile environment for colleagues who are deeply dedicated to advancing human health through scientific inquiry.”
He continued, “We cannot afford to reject brilliant minds working honestly and collaboratively to provide hope and healing to millions around the world.”
According to Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), institutions have asserted that they are not responsible for collecting information on researchers and aren’t subjected to penalties if they fail to report concerns, which makes understanding the scope of foreign influence difficult.
“Here’s my concern: There’s no single entity that’s in charge of identifying either falsification of the applications or violations of the rules,” Burr said at Thursday’s hearing. “This seems to almost be a system that’s reliant on somebody to uncover information that is either false or somebody’s actions that break the rules.”
Lisa Aguirre, acting director of HHS’s office of national security, said federal agencies are working to create a program to alert others when a problem related to foreign influence is discovered. She said a partnership between government and the private sector is creating a campaign to safeguard “science awareness and bioeconomy awareness.”
Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released their latest assessment on China as a national threat.
“Beijing will continue to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to expand China’s economic, political, and military presence abroad, while trying to reduce waste and exploitative practices, which have led to international criticism,” the report stated. “China will try to increase its influence using “vaccine diplomacy,” giving countries favored access to the COVID-19 vaccines it is developing. China also will promote new international norms for technology and human rights, emphasizing state sovereignty and political stability over individual rights.”