American research institutes are being encouraged by the US intelligence agencies to come up with protocols for monitoring students and visiting scholars from research institutions that are Chinese state-affiliated. To put it simply; the US suspicion about China has found its way into academia. Since 2018, FBI officials have been to a minimum of 10 members of the Association of American Universities, comprised of 62 research universities, along with an unclassified list of Chinese research companies and institutions.
American universities have been advised to carry out monitoring of scholars and students that are associated with the entities on the list on American campuses. The news comes from three administrators who were briefed at different institutions. Furthermore, the FBI officials have also advised the universities to review the research that is ongoing and features Chinese individuals that might have applications in defense.
According to Fred Cate, vice president of research at Indiana University, ‘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. It’s not a question of just looking for suspicious behavior — it’s actually really targeting specific countries and the people from those countries.’ On the other hand, the FBI says that it ‘regularly engages with the communities we serve. As part of this continual outreach, we meet with a wide variety of groups, organizations, businesses, and academic institutions. The FBI has met with top officials from academia as part of our ongoing engagement on national security matters.’
It is also being claimed that law enforcement agencies have also advised monitoring other nationalities as well, but the FBI briefings were focused on visitors from China. It should be noted, however, that such encouragements or suggestions are purely advisory and not mandatory. According to administrators of the universities, they have not yet incorporated any sort of monitoring protocols so far because of the skepticism that they have about the level of threat and the lack of specificity on FBI’s part.
On another front, intelligence officers are also conducting briefings of American CEOs, investors, and think tank experts about Chinese cybersecurity and espionage threats. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said, ‘What we provide them is the classified information that we get from the collection priorities of China specifically: What they’re trying to collect on, what they’re interested in our campuses.’
It was reported that more than 340,000 Chinese students were studying in the US last year by the Department of Homeland Security. Such measures could not only prove to be difficult but also next to impossible. However, Trump administration is focused on its trade war with China, and it seems that things are escalating.