A group of professors at Stanford University has sought the help of the Justice Department in putting an end to a program to root out Chinese spies at US colleges and universities.
More than 170 Stanford faculty members submitted a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland claiming that the program launched during the Trump administration has caused racial profiling and even terrorized some scientists and researchers.
Although the professors understand that protecting intellectual property and information is essential, they believe that the effort is harming research and technology competitiveness in the US, even fueling bias.
“We have to assiduously avoid basing policies or processes on prejudice – including those that could fuel anti-Asian sentiments or xenophobia,” the faculty members said, quoting White House official Dr. Eric Lander.
Launched in late 2018, the “China Initiative” is an attempt to prevent Chinese theft of American technology. According to Justice Department spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle, the program is meant to counter Chinese government efforts to undermine US national security and harm its economy.
The 177 Stanford professors who submitted the letter claim that investigations connected to the “China Initiative” are often triggered by a scientist’s connections with China, not by evidence of wrongdoing.
They pointed out that those working for the program have punished researchers and other academicians without solid evidence. “I think what the FBI’s done in most cases is to scare people – investigating people and interrogating them. And it’s harmful to the country,” Stanford’s senior associate dean Peter Michelson told Reuters.
The letter writers also said that most cases associated with the initiative have nothing to do with scientific espionage or intellectual property theft. They are reportedly just cases of misconduct for failing to disclose foreign funding or appointments.
At the end of the letter, the professors urged the Justice Department to develop an “alternative response to the challenges posed by our relations to China.” They said such a response must avoid racial profiling and not discourage beneficial collaborations with talented personnel.