January 28, 2020

In Wake of Harvard, BU Arrests, Moulton will Introduce Legislation to Help America Better Detect Foreign Agents

WASHINGTON — Today, federal agents arrested Dr. Charles Lieber, Chair of Harvard University's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He was charged with lying to investigators about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, which recruits researchers including Americans with access to sensitive intellectual property and other information of interest to America’s adversaries. According to The Boston Globe, Dr. Leiber is accused of receiving but failing to report up to $50,000 per month in salary and $150,000 per year in living expenses from Wuhan University of Technology. He was also allegedly awarded more than $1.5 million by the university and the Chinese government to build a laboratory in Wuhan.

Separately, according to The Wall Street Journal, “a researcher at Boston University was charged with allegedly acting as a Chinese government agent and failing to disclose that she was a lieutenant in the Chinese military when she applied for her research visa. Prosecutors also discussed the indictment last week of a Harvard-sponsored researcher accused of trying to smuggle biological research back to China.”

Following the arrests, U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) announced he will introduce a bill this week to tighten and better enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act, commonly known as FARA.

“America leads the world in new technologies because our scientists and researchers have the freedom to create. Our adversaries would rather exploit those freedoms to steal our work than create it themselves,” Moulton said. “We need to update our laws to keep pace with China’s aggressive campaign to steal our ideas and technology.”

FARA is designed to help the government detect foreign agents by requiring researchers in America to register when they are receiving money from foreign governments for work conducted on behalf of those governments. People who fail to register these transactions under FARA are often engaged in espionage or other activities that benefit America’s adversaries.

Moulton’s bill will make it easier to enforce FARA. It will focus law enforcement’s efforts on compliance by narrowing those who must register as foreign agents to include only those people working on behalf of foreign governments or foreign political parties. It would also make FARA easier to enforce by adding civil penalties in addition to criminal penalties.

Under the current rules, the registry is flooded with information that hinders the government’s ability to detect people who fail to register their activities.

Moulton’s bill will also close the academic exemption loophole for countries like China that violate human rights laws. Finally, it modernizes the bill, which was originally written in the 1930’s, so that the registration process is digitized and easier to search and monitor.

Recent events have made clear that FARA isn’t working as designed.

Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into President Trump and his associates exposed glaring loopholes in FARA that allow foreign influence to go undetected. For example, former Trump advisor Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States because he failed to register under FARA as a Ukrainian agent. Another Trump Advisor, General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his activities for foreign nations.

While these issues are notable because they ultimately led to the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the risk to the United States extends far beyond political scandals. The CIA recently warned colleges and universities about students who are stealing government-funded research for China. And, the National Institutes of Health recently sent notices to 60 American universities warning that it determined research at those institutions was improperly funded by foreign governments and could jeopardize national security.

Moulton has pushed Congress to actively counter China and other adversaries as they attempt to infiltrate American institutions. He is the co-chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s Future of Defense Task Force, which is studying the long-term threats America’s adversaries pose and ways the government can stop them.

He’s also used his position in Congress to fight back. For example, in 2018 he pressured public colleges in Massachusetts to cut ties with Confucius Institutes, which are funded by the Chinese government to stifle dissent and promote propaganda. When Moulton made the push, The Boston Globe reported that FBI Director Christopher Wray voiced his concern about the institutes and said the FBI was monitoring their activities closely.