NIH has identified over 500 ‘scientists of concern’ amid Chinese espionage concerns, says agency official

A high-ranking National Institutes of Health (NIH) official said the federal agency has identified over 500 “scientists of concern” within federally funded academic institutions and research programs, The Washington Examiner reported Friday. This comes as the U.S. government tries to combat coordinated foreign influence efforts, including Chinese economic espionage.

The NIH deputy director for extramural research, Dr. Michael Lauer, disclosed this information on Thursday during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing looking at safeguarding U.S. biomedical research, with undue foreign influence being a top concern.

“I think one big problem, senators, is that the threat is significant. […] We have identified over 500 scientists of concern. […] Each of these require a tremendous amount of work to figure out what exactly has been happening and to work carefully with the institution to figure out what’s going on,” Lauer said.

“As of April 2021, we have contacted more than 90 awardee institutions regarding concerns involving over 200 scientists,” he added.

Lauer also said, “We’ve seen scientists who have told their American institutions and the NIH that they’re spending 100% of their time in the U.S., when, in fact, they’re spending 50% to 60% of their time in China — so they’re lying about how they’re spending their time, and that kind of blatant lie affects the credibility and the integrity of the entire enterprise.”

“There have been over a hundred scientists who have been removed from the NIH ecosystem,” Lauer went on to say, mentioning that there have been “34 or so” referrals to the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General.

“Unfortunately, a few governments have initiated systematic programs to exploit the collaborative nature of biomedical research and unduly influence U.S.‐supported researchers,” Lauer said, pointing to NIH’s three major areas of concern.

“First is the failure by some researchers at NIH‐funded institutions to disclose substantial contributions of resources from other organizations, including foreign governments and businesses,” he explained. “Second is diversion of proprietary information included in grant applications or produced by NIH‐supported biomedical research to other entities, including other countries. And third, failure by some peer reviewers to keep information in grant applications confidential, including, in some instances, disclosure to foreign entities or other attempts to influence funding decisions.”

For more details on this story, read the original report by The Washington Examiner here.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.

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