A Thousand and One Fraudsters

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/24

Before I begin with this week’s feature, allow me to wish you a happy belated Memorial Day on behalf of the National Association of Scholars. NAS is immensely grateful for all of the brave men and women who have served our country, protected our nation and its allies from foreign threats, and lost their life in the process. We commemorate them for making the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our freedoms.

Now, on to far less patriotic matters.

As you may recall, in late January Dr. Charles Lieber of Harvard University was charged with “making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement” to the Department of Defense regarding his alleged involvement in the Thousand Talents Program (TTP — Not to be confused with the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP). This program is a “talent recruitment agency” run by the Chinese Communist Party, designed to smuggle research secrets to China under the ruse of “scientific collaboration.” Most TTP contracts are signed unbeknownst to these researchers’ domestic employers or the United States government, posing an obvious and urgent national security threat.

Unfortunately, Dr. Lieber is far from alone—since his arrest, several others have been accused of similar involvement with China. Professors Simon Saw-Teong Ang of the University of Arkansas, Qing Wang of Case Western Reserve University, and Xiojiang Li of Emory University all face criminal charges related to their participation in the Thousand Talents Program. The Department of Education recently began an investigation of the University of Texas for a possible connection to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Three unidentified faculty members of the University of Florida were found to have secret ties to China, which included receiving TTP grants and, in one case, directing a research institute at a Chinese university. 

The Thousand Talents Program alone has an estimated 7,000 members and is itself one of over 200 CCP-run programs. Given what has been uncovered in recent months, there is every reason to believe that many, many more instances of such infiltrations exist within American academia.

These academic fraudsters know what they’re doing is wrong. Why else would they keep their connection to the CCP secret from their employers and the U.S. government? Why would they resort to tax evasion and wire fraud to hide their funding? Because they want to have their cake and eat it too: research for two countries, receive two paychecks, and achieve twice the academic prestige, all for the small price of wholesale dishonesty and a betrayal of the American public.

As the aforementioned Professor Ang himself said in an uncovered email, “‘You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars...Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles [sic].’”

These cases expose a widespread disregard of academic integrity and a critical threat to American interests within the academy. In this week’s featured article, NAS Policy Director Rachelle Peterson relates the latest scandals to the larger problem of Chinese soft power in American higher education. She also places them in context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing for RealClearEducation, Peterson asserts:

American colleges and universities for years have opened their arms wide for Chinese government funding—but that funding has come at a price. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts higher education, colleges and universities feel even greater pressure to seek additional funding from their foreign benefactors. The American government must cut the bonds between China and our colleges.

This level of clandestine entanglement would be dangerous with any country, much more so with our greatest geopolitical rival. It must be brought to an end, for the sake of higher education and our country as a whole.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Engin Akyurt, Public Domain

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