Speaking at one of America’s leading public universities, FBI Director Christopher Wray on Friday offered a resounding defense of the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute academic fraud related to China, saying there is no “more serious, more intractable threat for our innovation.” , our ideas and our economic security than the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government.”
Wray’s stark description of what he considers the greatest threat to China’s national security was not new, but the context was remarkable. Speaking to students and professors at the University of Michigan, he answered pointed questions from a Chinese-American political scientist, who questioned him about a series of cases under the Justice Department’s now-defunct “China Initiative” that was in court. failed.
Ann Chih Lin, director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, pointed to some of those legal setbacks when she asked Wray to respond to critics accusing the FBI “of assuming that routine academic contacts with scientific colleagues in China are evidence of a crime, or of mistaking university-sponsored collaborations and grants for money that goes illegally into scientists’ pockets.”
Wray’s response included some of his most extensive remarks to date about the FBI’s efforts involving American universities and China. In February, the Justice Department announced it was ending the so-called China Initiative, an effort to investigate and prosecute US-based professors suspected of sharing research with Chinese universities linked to the government. But Wray said the FBI is still concerned about the Chinese government’s “talent programs” that sometimes pay American professors through secret relationships.
“We don’t base our business on race, ethnicity or national origin, nor have we,” Wray said.
Wray added that “the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, is engaged in what it considers to be an international talent war to attempt to exploit and steal intellectual property and sensitive research and data from countries around the world…. And so it is part of our responsibility to work with universities to protect that information.”
It’s important to understand hidden relationships that U.S. academics and researchers may have with Chinese universities, Wray said, especially if the academics are doing research funded by U.S. taxpayers.
“I think it is appropriate for universities and the US government to ensure there is transparency with the university and relevant grant-making agencies to understand what kind of relationships exist between the scholar and the Chinese government,” said he, which has “a very different goal in the way it sees the world, including suppression of human rights, including theft of intellectual property, including military domination.
Wray added that the FBI does not dispute the patriotism of Chinese Americans and considers them allies in its work. in the US who have clashed with the Communist Party.
Wray, who rarely answers journalists’ questions in public, was pressed by Lin to defend his statement that “the Chinese government is engaged in an entire society effort to steal from the United States.”
“You have asked the United States to engage in a similar civil society effort to fight China,” she said. “At the same time, you also stated, as you just did, that this effort is not about the Chinese people or Chinese-Americans. But of course, Chinese-Americans are part of American society that you think should be mobilized against China. So what advice do you have for Chinese-Americans like me, who hope to bridge the differences between our two countries, but instead find themselves caught in the middle, subject to charges of disloyalty…or even incidents of anti-Asian dislike have on?”
Wray responded by noting that he used the phrase “all of society” only once, early in his tenure. He also spoke again about Chinese government operations targeting Chinese-Americans.
“So we at the FBI don’t look at that as an intermediary,” he said. “We see Chinese Americans here as being with us. And that’s why I’m highlighting these cases, especially the cases of transnational repression, because they illustrate to me in a very poignant way the extent to which Chinese-Americans are not in the center here, but in the crosshairs of the Chinese government. And we have to work with them.”
In a phone interview after the event, Lin told NBC News that she appreciated Wray’s thoughtful responses, especially when he emphasized that the FBI’s national security concerns were directed at the Chinese government, not the Chinese people or Chinese-Americans.
But she said she would have liked Wray to acknowledge the failure of many prosecutions of Chinese academics. She added that she believes the FBI has exaggerated the threat of technology transfer in an academic setting where research is usually published for all the world to see.
“Being consistently knocked down should lead you to wonder if you’re misunderstanding the facts or drawing wrong implications from the facts,” she said.
In his remarks, Wray said the Justice Department’s losses in court are a testament to the U.S. justice system.
“I respect the decisions of juries and judges who have ruled against us, just as I trust others to respect the juries and judges who have ruled for us in those cases where things have gone the other way,” he said. “The fact that we sometimes lose cases actually speaks volumes about the integrity and independence of our justice system. I actually think it’s for our benefit as a country that the government is losing business. I bet our counterparts in China don’t lose much business, and it’s not because they’re better than us. So there is a clear illustration of the differences between the two systems.”