- - Saturday, August 13, 2022

In December, Texas A&M quietly shut down the International Laboratory for High-Resolution Earth System Prediction, which was a joint venture among Texas A&M, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Qingdao Pilot National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology in China. They were going to share funding, experts and computing power to develop high-resolution climate models.

An essential part of those high-resolution models focuses on temperatures in oceans. In addition to predicting the weather, it turns out that understanding heat structures in oceans is very helpful in keeping ships and submarines from being detected. That’s valuable information if you are communist China’s People’s Liberation Navy and thinking about an invasion of say … Taiwan.

So, it should come as no surprise to learn that the joint venture among NCAR, the Aggies and communist China was on a list of foreign agreements that Texas A&M wanted to terminate for national-security reasons. Texas A&M apparently had evaluated Chinese and Russian agreements of all kinds and decided that some of those partnerships posed risks that scientists might steal technology on behalf of another country.

You have to wonder what took so long. You also have to wonder why the National Center for Atmospheric Research didn’t leave the joint venture sooner. They, perhaps more than anyone, know that weather models can be weaponized. Indeed, there are some indications that open-source weather models developed in the United States have been used for targeting purposes by Russia in Ukraine.

In deciding it didn’t want to help communist China understand oceans any better, Texas A&M was slightly ahead of the game. In February, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, sent letters to 22 U.S. universities, urging them to end their academic and research partnerships that could benefit the Chinese military.

The bad news is that, also in February, President Biden’s Justice Department announced the termination of the China Initiative, which was the Trump administration’s effort to keep China from stealing U.S. intellectual property via academic cooperation.

It may not matter. Congress and others are now tuned into the problem of intellectual property theft and the new cold, quiet war communist China is waging against us.

For example, with little fanfare, a bipartisan group of House appropriators recently amended the fiscal 2023 appropriations for health and science agencies to ban funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China as well as other labs like it.

The House Appropriations Committee wasn’t done. Its language in the National Science Foundation appropriations for fiscal 2023 included: “The committee is concerned that certain open-source research capabilities at [the National Science Foundation] could be used by adversaries against U.S. allies or U.S. interests. The committee, therefore, directs the NSF to collaborate with the secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence to compile and maintain a list of all NSF-funded open-source research capabilities that are known or suspected to have an impact on foreign military operations.”

The states are active as well, which is important given that most of our research universities are state institutions. Chris Sprowls, the speaker of the Florida House, who was the first state legislator in the U.S. to investigate and create legislation to prevent intellectual property theft from state institutions, noted, “China is expanding traditional warfare through the theft of intellectual property.”

In the case of Florida, the then-CEO of Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center, which is one of the leading medical research institutions in the United States, was recruited along with three researchers to join the Thousand Talents Program. That program is designed specifically by Chinese communists to bring native-born Chinese scientists home and to recruit, wherever possible, foreign talent as well. 

In that instance, the recruited American employees accepted cash and paid travel and set up personal bank accounts in China to receive tens of thousands of dollars in payments from the Chinese regime.

The CEO, the center’s director and the researchers resigned.

That experience confirmed Mr. Sprowls’ belief in the need to be aggressive in protecting state research institutions and state-developed intellectual property. “The problem of Chinese communist infiltration into American institutions of higher learning is pervasive.”

At the time, he concluded with a series of thoughts that are equally essential to federal-level policies on the theft and weaponization of intellectual property: “How are researchers being screened? How are facilities being audited? What policies are in place to assess relationships with China? Discussions about accountability make some people uncomfortable. But we can’t be afraid to be honest when something isn’t working. Silence strangles the truth. We can’t avoid talking about the things that matter because the conversation might be controversial.” 

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated” podcast. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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