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Harvard Chemistry Dept. Head Charged with Failing to Disclose Chinese Funding

On the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

The head of Harvard University’s chemistry department has been charged with failing to disclose funding from the Chinese government, according to an indictment unsealed on Tuesday.

Charles Lieber, the department head, allegedly hid his participation in China’s “thousand talents” program from officials in the Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health.

China uses what it calls “talent plans” to encourage scientific research by providing government funding to select scientists. The U.S. government has charged a number of individuals funded by talent plans with attempting to steal U.S. intellectual property for the Chinese government.

“While association with a Talent Program is not illegal, it can create incentives to steal, violate export controls, or (at a minimum) conflicts of interest,” said John Demers, chief of the national security division at the Justice Department, at a November presentation.

In one case, the Justice Department revealed in November that federal agents in 2017 had stopped Haitao Xiang, a Missouri resident and employee of an agriculture-biotechnology company, from boarding a plane to China with a copy a proprietary algorithm belonging to his company.

Also in November, the FBI admitted in a Senate hearing that it had not done enough to counter the threat of intellectual property theft by China.

“With our present-day knowledge of the threat from Chinese plans, we wish we had taken more rapid and comprehensive action in the past,” said John Brown, assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, at the hearing. “The time to make up for that is now.”

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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