NAICU Washington Update

UPDATE: FBI Holds Summit on Safeguarding Research while Simultaneously Protecting Academic Freedom

November 08, 2019

** This story originally appeared in the October 24, 2019 edition of Washington Update.**

UPDATE (November 8, 2019): The FBI produced several resources for universities, research institutions, and businesses that provide an overview of the risks partners face from China and the steps that can be taken to protect from counterintelligence threats.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently held its second annual higher education summit at its headquarters in Washington, DC.  The summit, which was attended by NAICU, focused on best practices in protecting research and intellectual property, while at the same time defending academic freedom and the free exchange of knowledge. The summit drew 120 college presidents, provosts, senior campus leaders and staff to hear from U. S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and share campus experiences.  

A common theme, expressed by several speakers and presenters, was to encourage colleges to develop relationships with FBI field offices so both entities can work together to protect academic assets while promoting academic freedom.

To illustrate the magnitude of the issue, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted that there are more than 1,000 investigations into technology theft by foreign entities, across all 56 FBI field offices, which involve university research in some way.  He also emphasized the bureau’s goal to be better partners with higher education to ensure colleges and universities understand the challenges they face in protecting scientific research or avoiding foreign interference, balanced with the protection of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the rights of both foreign and American students. He explained that they are having similar conversations with the business community.

Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), highlighted the office’s efforts to bring together 19 federal agencies to develop best practices for security and research integrity to protect ideas, methods, findings, and research at every step of the process.  OSTP recently sent a letter to the United States research community about the establishment of the Joint Committee on Research Environments (JCORE) to work with academia to stay informed and develop protections.

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, explained that since countries intending to harm the United States have slow, deliberate, long-term plans, his agency is looking ahead 25 years to prepare for possible economic and academic security threats.  

Two campus presentations highlighted exemplary coordination with FBI field offices.  The Ohio State University’s development of a campus FBI liaison has resulted in a decade-long relationship that allows the institution to have connections to other federal agencies and respond quickly to problems that have arisen. The University of Kansas has developed a security management plan that relies on all parts of the university being aware of the vulnerabilities and threats, but with one point of contact for the FBI so that communication can be direct and efficient.

The FBI’s first summit, held in September 2018, gave university leaders an unclassified briefing on several different types of security threats facing the country, how those could impact colleges and universities, and what higher education leaders could do to protect their campuses, students, and faculty.

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