The Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging American universities to keep an eye on Chinese students who could potentially steal research and send it back to their native country.
“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,” said Fred Cate, vice president of research at Indiana University.
“It’s not a question of just looking for suspicious behavior — it’s actually really targeting specific countries and the people from those countries,” he added.
However, FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a congressional hearing in February 2018 that he believed China is “exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it.”
NPR reported Friday that FBI officials have presented universities with a list of Chinese research institutions and companies with whom some students are associated.
“While law enforcement agents have discussed university monitoring of other nationalities as well, these FBI briefings addressed visitors from China in particular who are involved in science, technology, engineering and math,” the report states.
Fortune reported in March that the theft of intellectual property, or IP theft, has been a huge issue in trade talks between China and the United States.
“IP theft may not seem the same as taking physical property, but it represents either a loss of opportunity or of competitive advantage that reduces the money a company could have made,” the report stated.
Retired former counterintelligence official Todd K. Hulsey told NPR that what the FBI is doing is “really more of an outreach and education program.”
“It’s to let these universities know that there is an existing threat to our economy,” he said.
The FBI began cracking down on the issue in April when more than 30 Chinese professors alleged that their U.S. visas were cancelled or put on administrative review in 2018, after they were suspected of having links to Chinese intelligence agencies.