In August 2018 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched an investigation that is shaking up the U.S. biomedical community. A new round of terminations has resulted in 54 scientists losing their jobs with the taxpayer-funded institute. The investigation is on-going.

The scientists, all grant recipients, failed to disclose financial ties to a foreign government – mostly China.189 researchers were investigated and 93% were found to be tied to China. So, 54 researchers were terminated or resigned for violating NIH rules against simultaneously receiving funds from the U.S. government and foreign entities. In other words, the scientists aren’t allowed to be paid by the U.S. government, do the research and other tasks, and then be paid by another country in exchange for that research information.

It seems that the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) has gotten really good at recruiting scientists to provide research information to advance President Xi Jinping’s 2013 decree: “Only by controlling core technology in one’s own hands, can one seize the initiative in competition and development, and absolutely guarantee national economic security, defense security.” The CCP is doing that by forking over a lot of money to 174 researchers in 27 states and 59 cities, in the form of direct compensation or research grants. The amounts total up to $678,000. That’s chump change for the wealthy Chinese government but the payments handsomely rewarded the scientists for doing what amounts to espionage against the U.S. government while the American taxpayers funded the NIH. Remember, this is the parent organization for high profile scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The NIH has 6,000 research scientists and a multi-billion dollar budget.

The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. Lauer had previously provided some information on the scope of NIH’s investigation, which had targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions. But his presentation today to a senior advisory panel offered by far the most detailed breakout of an effort NIH launched in August 2018 that has roiled the U.S. biomedical community, and resulted in criminal charges against some prominent researchers, including Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

“It’s not what we had hoped, and it’s not a fun task,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in characterizing the ongoing investigation. He called the data “sobering.”

Lieber was arrested, charged with lying about his ties to the Chinese government and sharing information to the CCP for financial compensation, and this month he was indicted by a grand jury.

Three tactics have come to light from the working group‘s investigation: 1. Failure to disclose substantial foreign resources (foreign employment arrangements, foreign grant support, in many cases the American institution was unaware), 2. Failure to disclose significant foreign FCOI, patents, and 3. Peer review violations. An interesting point brought out is that 399 researchers were suspected of being on a foreign payroll, but only 189 of them ended up being pursued. Lauer provided some numbers from that larger investigation.

Lauer’s presentation also provided a glimpse into the scope of that broader investigation. There are 399 scientists “of possible concern” to NIH, he told the advisory council, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has fingered 30% (121) of them. An additional 44 have been flagged by their own institutions. Of that pool, Lauer said, investigations into 63%, or 256 scientists, came out “positive.” Investigations into some 19% came up “negative,” he noted, whereas the status of the remaining 18% is “pending.”

The CCP targets a certain type of scientist for its dirty work – Asian men in their 50s.

In the vast majority of cases, Lauer reported, the person being investigated has been an Asian man in his 50s. Some three-quarters of those under investigation had active NIH grants, and nearly half had at least two grants. The 285 active grants totaled $164 million.

Lauer also presented data on the nature of the violations that NIH has uncovered. Some 70% (133) of the researchers had failed to disclose to NIH the receipt of a foreign grant, and 54% had failed to disclose participation in a foreign talent program. In contrast, Lauer said, only 9% hid ties to a foreign company, and only 4% had an undisclosed foreign patent. Some 5% of cases involved a violation of NIH’s peer-review system.

Lauer said the fact that 82% of those being investigated are Asian “is not surprising” because “that’s who the Chinese target” in their foreign talent recruitment programs. Some 82% are men, and their median age is 56, with the youngest being 48 and the oldest 59. Slightly more than one-half had been an NIH peer reviewer in the past 2 years, and 41% of those under investigation (77 scientists) have been banned from further participation in NIH’s well-regarded system of vetting grant proposals.

It’s a start getting rid of some of these bad apples. There are bills in Congress that address the national security concerns and economic concerns. Perhaps it is time to eliminate Chinese scientists coming to the United States and restrict access to federally funded research for cutting-edge technologies and new industries. Stop allowing corrupt scientists to give away American research findings.

Tags: espionage nih