Murphy Introduces Legislation to Crack Down on Foreign Espionage in Colleges and Universities

July 29, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, Congressman Greg Murphy, M.D. (NC-03) introduced the Intelligence on Nefarious Foreign Leaders Using Education Networks for Corrupt Enrichment (INFLUENCE) Act. The legislation aims to limit the theft of intellectual property by foreign nationals at colleges and universities.

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property estimates foreign actors steal $300 billion in American intellectual property (IP) annually, which is equal to all U.S. exports to Asia. The Intellectual Property Commission estimates China is responsible for 70 percent of that theft – or $210 billion annually.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies compiled a list of 137 publicly reported cases of Chinese espionage seeking to acquire information from military, government, civilian and academic institutions. Some examples of these instance are listed below:

  • In January 2020, the Chairman of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University was charged with aiding the People’s Republic of China.
  • In August 2019, a Chinese academic who was a visiting professor at the University of Texas was arrested and charged with fraud for allegedly stealing technology from a California-based company and passing it to China.
  • In June 2019, a Chinese scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles was convicted of shipping banned missile technology to his homeland.
  • In January 2019, a Chinese student at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology was charged with helping to recruit spies for his country's version of the CIA.

Existing law requires any gift or contract from a foreign source given to institutions of higher learning valued at $250,000 or more to be reported to the Department of Education. If passed, the INFLUENCE Act would lower that threshold to $50,000. The bill would also require schools to report to the Department of Education on the nature of any contracts with foreign nationals on sensitive projects. In addition, the measure would establish interagency coordination on the enforcement of any violations exposing U.S. national security projects, and the Secretary of Education would report on best practices moving forward regarding these types of breaches and how best to protect sensitive information. Enforcement mechanisms of the bill include civil action, revoking Title IV funding, and fines.

Murphy released the following statement:

“A quick google search will yield several examples of Chinese academics and students stealing IP from the U.S. Especially in light of recent Chinese efforts to steal a potential COVID-19 vaccine from the United States and the escalation of Chinese spying, the $250,000 figure has become too high a threshold for reporting gifts and contracts. Americans should have a better idea of how foreign countries are exercising influence and establishing a presence on American campuses,” said Murphy.

“Higher-education institutions have become a breeding ground for the Chinese spying campaign. Many of these so-called Chinese ‘students’ and ‘academics’ are more like operatives of espionage rather than peers and educators who contribute to our academic culture. Some have been clearly documented as members of the People’s Liberation Army.

“The Chinese government often pays much higher tuition rates than U.S. students making them an attractive source of income for colleges and universities. Their guaranteed income now is even more attractive given the challenges of the COVID crisis to academic budgets. That said we need our institutions of Higher Education to understand that Chinese Communist Party presence on their campuses is a clear risk to intellectual property theft. We need them to be part of the solution.

“I’m proud to introduce this legislation to hold not only Chinese spies accountable, but also colleges and universities who sometimes enable their activities. I hope my colleagues will support this important measure to protect American IP and sensitive information,” concluded Murphy.

The text of the INFLUENCE Act can be found here.