The scientist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was too imprudent. "Here are the bones and meat you want," he wrote in misspelled English in an email to Chinese researchers.
休斯顿MD安德森癌症中心(M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston)的这位科学家太不谨慎。他在发给中国研究人员的电子邮件中用带有拼写错误的英文写道：“这是你想要的骨头和肉。”
Attached to the email was a confidential research proposal, according to the center's officials. The scientist had access to the document only because the National Institutes of Health had asked him to peer review the proposal, and MD Anderson had reviewed his emails because federal officials had asked them to investigate.
据该中心的管理人员说，电邮的附件是一份保密的研究提案。那名科学家之所以能够看到这份文件，只是因为美国国家卫生研究院（National Institutes of Health，简称NIH）请他为提案做同行评议，而MD安德森中心之所以检查了他的电子邮件，是因为联邦官员要求他们对其展开调查。
The NIH and the FBI have embarked on a massive effort to find and remove scientists they say stole biomedical research for other countries from research institutes across the United States. Nearly all of the incidents they have discovered and are investigating involve scientists of Chinese descent, including naturalized U.S. citizens accused of stealing for China.
Seventy-one institutions, including many of the country's most prestigious medical schools, are currently investigating 180 cases involving potential intellectual property theft. The cases began last year when the NIH, spurred by information from the FBI, sent 18,000 official letters urging those in charge of managing government research funding to be vigilant.
So far, the NIH has turned over 24 cases of possible criminal activity to the inspector general's office at the Department of Health and Human Services, which may turn them over to the criminal prosecutions division. "This problem seems to affect every discipline in biomedical research," said Dr. Michael Lauer, the NIH's associate director for out-of-hospital research.
到目前为止，NIH已将24个可能有犯罪活动证据的案件移交给了卫生与公众服务部(Department of Health and Human Services)的监察长办公室，后者可能会将这些案件移交给刑事诉讼部门。“这个问题似乎影响到生物医学研究的每个学科，”NIH负责院外研究的副主任迈克尔·劳尔(Michael Lauer)博士说。
The investigations have added to concerns that China is exploiting the relative openness of the us scientific system to engage in large-scale economic espionage. At the same time, the scale of the dragnet scrutiny has sent shivers down the spine of biomedical researchers, some of whom say the investigation is unfairly targeting chinese-american scientists as the geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Beijing intensifies.
You can make a list of medical schools with important research projects into darts targets, and I would say you have a 50-50 chance of hitting a school that's doing a survey, said Dr. Ross McKinney Jr., chief scientific officer of the Association of American medical colleges.
“你可以把有重要研究项目的医学院名单做成掷飞镖游戏的镖靶，依我看，你会有50%的概率击中一个正在进行调查的学校，”美国医学院校联合会(Association of American medical colleges)的首席科学官小罗斯·麦金尼(Ross McKinney Jr.)博士说。
The alleged theft involved not military secrets but scientific ideas, designs, devices, data and methods that might yield benefits from new treatments or diagnostic tools.
Some of the researchers under investigation have already obtained patents in China using research funded by the U.S. government and owned by U.S. institutions, the NIH said. Others are suspected of setting up laboratories in China to secretly replicate their research in the United States, government officials and university administrators said.
The NIH has not released the names of most of the scientists under investigation, citing due process, and most of the agencies involved have not released their names. "As with any personnel matter, we usually do not release the names or details of those affected," said Brette Peyton, a spokeswoman for MD Anderson.
But so far, more than a dozen scientists have resigned or been fired from universities and research centers across the country. Some of the men declined to discuss the charges against them or denied any wrongdoing.
In some cases, scientists who received funding from the NIH or other federal agencies have been accused of violating NIH rules by simultaneously receiving funding from the Chinese government. Some said they did not know the arrangement had to be disclosed or banned.
In August, tao feng, a 48-year-old chemist at the University of Kansas, was charged with four counts of fraud for allegedly taking federal funds while failing to disclose his full-time job at a Chinese University.
今年8月，堪萨斯大学(University of Kansas)48岁的化学家陶丰被控犯有四项欺诈罪，据称他在拿联邦资金的同时，没有披露在一所中国大学的全职工作。
Mr. Tao's lawyer, Peter r. Zeidenberg, declined to comment on the case, but suggested that prosecutors were targeting scholars across the country for simple mistakes.
陶丰的律师彼得·R·蔡登伯格(Peter R. Zeidenberg)拒绝就该案予以置评，但暗示检方是在全国范围内将犯过简单错误的学者作为打击目标。
College professors have summer vacations, Mr. Zeidenberg said in an interview. "They often take up positions in China during the summer holidays. They don't think they have to report it to the university."
The next thing they knew, they were being charged with wire fraud and facing 20 years in prison, he added. "You think this is a joke?"
The survey has made Chinese and chinese-american scholars feel that "they will be targeted and put at risk," said wu huayang, a Law professor at the University of California Hastings School of the Law and former President of the Committee of 100, an elite chinese-american group.
调查已让中国籍和美籍华裔学者感到“他们将成为目标，面临风险”，加州大学黑斯廷斯法学院(University of California Hastings School of the Law)法学教授吴华扬说，他曾任精英华裔美国人组织“百人会”(Committee of 100)的会长。
Wu and other critics say the cases are reminiscent of the U.S. government's five-year investigation into Mr. Lee. Mr. Li, a former scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was accused of stealing China's nuclear warhead program in 1999 and held for several months until the government case was largely dismissed. He pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified information.
吴华扬和其他批评人士表示，这些案子让人想起美国政府对李文和长达五年的调查。李文和曾是洛斯阿拉莫斯国家实验室(Los Alamos National Laboratory)的科学家，1999年，他被指控为中国盗窃核弹头方案，并被关押了好几个月，直至政府的案子基本上不成立后才获释。他只承认了一项对保密信息处理不当的罪名。
More recently, the justice department has been forced to drop theft charges against at least four chinese-american scientists since 2014: two former Eli Lilly scientists in indiana, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Ohio and a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. In 2016, the justice department changed its rules to give greater oversight of these national security cases to prosecutors in Washington.
更近的还有，美国司法部已被迫撤销了2014年以来针对至少四名华裔美国科学家的盗窃指控：印第安纳州的两名礼来公司(Eli Lilly)前科学家、俄亥俄州的一名国家气象局(National Weather Service)水文专家，以及费城天普大学(Temple University)的一名教授。2016年，司法部修改了规定，把对这些国家安全案件的更大监管权交给了华盛顿的检察官。
But lauer and other officials said investigations of biomedical research had uncovered clear evidence of wrongdoing. In one case, lauer and MD Anderson officials said, a scientist was intercepted at an airport en route to China after packing a computer hard drive containing research data in a box.
They argue that the cases generally paint a disturbing picture of economic espionage, and that the Chinese government has been exploiting the U.S. system of biomedical research based on trust and free exchange of ideas.
How would you feel if you were an American scientist and you submitted your best idea to the government when you applied for funding, only to have someone working on your project in China? "McKinney asked.
This is something we've never seen before.
NIH's concerns about the theft of biomedical research date back at least to June 2016, when the FBI approached NIH officials with unusual questions.
How does peer review work? What precautions were taken? "They need to know how our system works, for example, compared to defense systems," lauer said.
The F.B.I. declined to discuss the ongoing investigation, including why so many were launched and how it chose its targets. But Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, told the senate judiciary committee in July that China was using "unconventional intelligence gatherers" and trying to "steal its way up the economic ladder at our expense."
The FBI's national office of counterintelligence in Houston asked officials at the Texas academic and medical center to attend a classified meeting in the summer of 2018 to discuss evidence of intellectual property theft. Managers were given urgent security clearances and told to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Next, based on information from the FBI and other sources, NIH began sending letters to medical centers around the country in late August 2018 asking administrators to investigate individual scientists.
This is something we've never seen before, lauer said. "It took us a while to realize the magnitude of the problem."
Some of the first signs of trouble were discovered by officials at the MD Anderson center, a prominent cancer research and treatment center. Between August 2018 and January 2019, the center received five official letters from NIH asking administrators to investigate the activities of five faculty members.
Dr. Peter Pisters, the director of the cancer center, said he and his colleagues reviewed the faculty emails and found disturbing evidence.
One of the emails the center provided to the New York times with some of the information was written by a scientist who planned to rush proprietary lab materials to his Chinese colleagues. "I should be able to bring you the whole set of primers (if I can figure out how to get on a plane with a dozen frozen DNA tubes)," he wrote.
The emails from MD Anderson, which contain some information, also suggest that a scientist at the medical center sent data and research to the Chinese government in exchange for a one-year "appointment" of $75,000 under the name of the thousand talents program. The thousand talents program is a program set up ten years ago in Beijing to recruit scientists to work in Chinese universities.
According to an internal report on the investigation, the researchers were legally obliged to disclose such payments to the NIH and their academic institutions, but the scientist did not do so.
Another MD Anderson scientist forwarded a confidential research proposal to a contact in China: "attached is an application for a study on mitochondrial DNA mutations in tumor development. Please keep it to yourself."
MD Anderson officials say three of the five scientists surveyed have resigned and one has retired. The fifth scientist under investigation may not have committed violations serious enough to warrant dismissal.
Dr. Wu, who left the MD Anderson center and is now dean of the school of public health at zhejiang university in China, declined to comment on the circumstances of her resignation. "I wanted to focus on my research," she said.
MD Anderson is not the only institution dealing with possible scientific misconduct.
Last month, a scientist couple, zhou yu, 49, and Chen li, 46, were accused of stealing technology developed by the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where they had worked for 10 years, applying for a patent in China and setting up biotechnology companies in China and the United States.
上个月，一对科学家夫妇——49岁的周宇和46岁陈莉被指控盗取他们工作了10年的俄亥俄州哥伦布市全国儿童医院(Nationwide Children’s Hospital)开发的技术，用其在中国申请了专利，并在中国和美国成立了生物技术公司。
Glenn Seiden, Ms. Zhou's lawyer, said in an email that the couple had committed no crimes and that Ms. Zhou was a "trailblazer" for scientific research.
In may, two scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Dr. Li xiaojiang and Dr. Li shihua, were fired after the school found that Mr. Li had received funding from China's thousand talents program.
The couple have been working at emory university for more than 20 years, studying huntington's disease. The school declined to provide more information.
They treat us like criminals, Mr. Li said in an interview near jinan university in southern China, where he and his wife work. He disputed that they had not disclosed their ties to China to emory.
Our work is for all mankind, Mr. Li added. "You can't say if I work in China, I'm not loyal to the United States."
In July, Dr. Kang zhang, the former head of ophthalmic genetics at the University of California, San Diego, resigned after local reporters revealed his ties to a Chinese biotechnology company that appeared to rely on his research at the University.
今年7月，加州大学圣迭戈分校(University of California, San Diego)前眼科遗传学负责人张康博士辞职，此前当地记者披露了他与中国一家生物科技公司的关系，这家公司似乎靠的是他在该校所做的研究。
Zhang kang, also a member of the thousand talents program, did not tell the school about his selection. His lawyer, Leo Cunningham, said Mr. Zhang's suspension had nothing to do with his involvement with the Chinese biotechnology company or the thousand talents program, but rather with his conduct as a clinical trial researcher two years ago.
What came to light was a "chain of events," lauer said.
Federal officials say the Chinese start-ups are based on taxpayer-funded NIH science and medical technology. "We know that some of the companies that were founded in China were based on research that we funded," raul said.
According to lauer, some chinese-american scientists have also secretly obtained Chinese patents for research done in the United States, and some of the researchers enrolled in the thousand talents project have contracts requiring them to share confidential information or other laboratory discoveries obtained in the United States with the Chinese government.
If NIH funds research, the American taxpayer should get the results, says McKinney of the American association of medical schools. "But if a project is funded by China, it is transferring intellectual property to China."
Espionage or racism?
Federal and academic officials stressed that they did not target Chinese researchers because of their ethnicity. But the F.B.I. 's silence about how so many investigations began has heightened concerns that the government's efforts to spot economic spies could see all Chinese and chinese-american scientists as one and the same, making it harder to attract Chinese students and scholars.
We can't tell who is guilty and who is not, but we can see the real impact on Chinese americans, said wu huayang, a law professor. "People live in fear. It's a matter of impact, not intention."
Mr Wu has seen a sharp shift in attitudes towards China and its people as the trump administration has taken a tougher line against China, including levying tariffs designed to punish intellectual property violations.
I now regularly receive phone calls and emails from Chinese who feel threatened, including naturalized Chinese in the United States, Mr. Wu said. But few are willing to come forward and publicly accuse racism, he added.
In raul's view, allegations of racial discrimination are unfounded. "Not all cases of foreign influence involve China," he said. "Although that is true in the vast majority of cases."
The real question, he added, was how to maintain an open exchange of scientific ideas in the face of growing security concerns. MD Anderson center managers are tightening controls and reducing free access to data.
Center personnel are no longer able to use personal laptops over the center's wireless network. The center also banned the use of USB drives and USB ports. All employees' computers can now be monitored remotely.
The NIH is also tightening up. It recommends limiting the ability of those reviewing research grant applications to download or print them. Those who travel to certain areas should use borrowed computers designed for travel, the NIH said, and academic institutions should be wary of scientists who frequently travel abroad or co-publish papers with colleagues outside the United States.
The National Science Foundation has commissioned an independent scientific advisory panel to advise on balancing openness and security concerns and to warn employees against participating in projects such as China's thousand talents initiative.
美国国家科学基金会(National Science Foundation)已委托一个独立的科学咨询小组，为平衡开放和安全考虑出谋划策，并对雇员发出警告，禁止他们参与如中国“千人计划”这样的项目。
The F.B.I. has provided research organizations with tools to search for Chinese keywords in emails that could alert managers to violations, Mr. McKinney said.
It's going to have a hard effect on long-term trust, he said. "We have not seen systematic fraud before."