U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

WASHINGTON – Amid reports of China’s increased economic and research espionage, senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced legislation making foreign nationals engaged in the theft of U.S. intellectual property and other sensitive proprietary information inadmissible to and deportable from the United States.

The Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act (S. 4370) makes foreign nationals deportable and inadmissible if they are found to have violated laws preventing the export of certain goods, technology or sensitive information, or laws related to economic espionage and the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets.

“For years, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to infiltrate, replicate and abscond with sensitive U.S.-based research and innovation to the detriment of our businesses and scientists. As the world races to develop a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus originating from China, the CCP is now targeting researchers in an apparent effort to either hijack or disrupt the vaccine development process. Their selfish and dangerous campaign is not welcome in this country,” Grassley said.

“Attempts to hack a COVID-19 vaccine show just how high the stakes are when it comes to safeguarding America’s intellectual property. Foreign nationals engaged in trade secrets theft and economic espionage must be held accountable, and more needs to be done to stop researchers working on American soil while in league with our adversaries,” Whitehouse said.

Last week, the Justice Department announced indictments of two Chinese computer hackers suspected of working with the Chinese government to breach networks in the United States and elsewhere to steal trade secrets and intellectual property, including COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccine research. The State Department also recently ordered China to close its Houston consulate following rampant visa fraud and economic espionage, which the department said has accelerated since the coronavirus pandemic. The FBI recently arrested a Chinese woman who failed to disclose her connections to the Chinese military on her visa application to conduct research in the United States. Under the Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act, foreign nationals targeting sensitive U.S. information in the public or private sector, including academia, would be prohibited from entering or remaining in the United States.

Grassley has long warned about the risks to U.S. research, intellectual property and trade secrets posed by foreign nationals – particularly from China.  As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley convened an oversight hearing on foreign threats to taxpayer funded research in June 2019. Grassley also wrote to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Health and Human Services Inspector General, and the Department of Defense relating to foreign threats to taxpayer funded research. A Government Accountability Office review, which Grassley requested, found that federal agencies need to be doing more to protect against foreign theft of U.S. research. Grassley is also seeking a GAO review of the government’s use of conflict of interest policies regarding taxpayer funded research.

China has leveraged its presence in American colleges and universities to spread pro-China propaganda and steal intellectual property. In March, Grassley encouraged all schools with an active Confucius Institute to seek an FBI briefing on how China uses the institutes to seed pro-China sentiments within U.S. academia. As a result of those letters, the FBI held a teleconference with 44 schools.  On the call, the FBI echoed Grassley’s warning and discussed how China is actively using its connections with U.S. research centers and potential cyber intrusions to monitor America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and research efforts to develop treatments.

Grassley and Whitehouse are also examining ways to screen federal grant applicants to better identify researchers seeking to misappropriate intellectual property

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