An ongoing inquiry by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) into grantees’ failures to disclose foreign ties has resulted in the firings and resignations of 54 scientists.
The NIH investigation has investigated 189 scientists for undisclosed foreign ties, with 93 percent of the hidden funding coming from China. Some 77 grantees have been removed from the NIH system as a result of the probe.
The numbers were revealed on June 12 in a presentation by Michael Lauer, the NIH deputy director for extramural research. The NIH’s effort dates back to August 2018, when the organization warned universities across the nation that some foreign entities have been systematically targeting NIH researchers to divert intellectual property and obtain confidential information.
The NIH effort is part of a larger U.S. government campaign to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) infiltration of American academia. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI have made arrests and reached settlements in several cases involving researchers as part of its broader China Initiative launched in November 2018.
At the time of the investigation, some 143 scientists in 27 states held active grants worth $164 million. More than 80 percent were Asian, reflecting the CCP’s targeting of Chinese researchers.
The CCP aggressively recruits foreign researchers as part of its Thousand Talents Program, which is seen by the U.S. government as a cover for obtaining U.S. intellectual property.
The NIH inquiry has directly resulted in prosecutions by the DOJ. After the NIH flagged an Emory University professor’s failure to disclose foreign work on grant applications, the DOJ indicted Xiao-Jiang Li, 63, of Atlanta. Li was sentenced in May to a year of probation and ordered to pay $35,000 to the IRS for the income from China he concealed on his tax returns.
One-third of the 189 scientists probed by the NIH were already on the radar of the FBI, according to Lauer’s presentation. Seven in 10 failed to report foreign grants, and more than half have an undisclosed “talents award.”
The DOJ reached a settlement in December last year with the Van Andel Research Institute. The government alleged that the institute made false statements on grant applications that failed to disclose two grants for the Chinese government. The Van Andel Research Institute agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle the case.
In one of the most prominent cases, the DOJ on June 9 indicted Harvard University professor Charles Lieber for making false statements to federal authorities about his participation in the CCP’s Thousand Talents Program.