Follow The Money: Why Foreign Influence On University Campuses Is A Threat To National Security

When it comes to America’s national security, we think of energy grids, water supply systems, and espionage by foreign governments. Our university system, however, receives very little attention — and it should. The fact is America’s universities are wittingly and unwittingly putting U.S. national security at risk as they have been infiltrated by foreign countries.

China has built the most sophisticated espionage operations in the world and its government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has identified U.S. universities as fertile ground for extracting valuable research and knowledge. There’s no shortage of examples of technology transfers from our top university campuses to foreign entities.

Dr. Charles Lieber, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, was convicted on charges of fraud and conspiracy for failing to disclose connections to the Wuhan University of Technology, which paid him $1.5 million to establish a research lab there, as well as a monthly salary of up to $50,000. 

Another concerning case involved Ji Chaoqun — an engineering “graduate student” at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves who enrolled as a graduate student and worked on behalf of what the FBI deems a high-level Chinese intelligence officer.

Ji would identify individuals for potential enlistment into China’s espionage operations. The individuals targeted were Chinese nationals working as engineers and scientists, including those that worked for American defense contractors. As someone who has conducted risk and threat assessments, I can say that examples like these reveal how deeply college campuses have been penetrated by foreign intelligence.

The United States leads the world in technological progress and innovation, much of which comes from our world-renowned research universities. It’s smart for the CCP to target these rich resources, but we need to be smarter, recognize what’s happening, and take action to stop it. Unfortunately, following the money reveals why universities are turning a blind eye: they’re addicted to the cash flow.

The reality is, foreign entities are using college campuses throughout the United States as vehicles to buy influence on and, ultimately, off campuses. According to the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. universities, including Harvard, failed to disclose at least $6.5 billion in foreign contributions, including from China, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Money talks and it nearly always comes with strings attached.

Countries operate on their self-interests, and they do not contribute large sums of money without receiving anything in return. They are well aware that money buys silence and influence. Silence where administrators and faculty censor themselves out of fear of losing revenue. These countries also look to propagate their views on college campuses so they can influence U.S. policy among the next generation of decision makers.

Another area of concern lies within our graduate degree programs, particularly the STEM fields as these areas are critical components to a nation’s growth and development. We are educating our enemies and equipping them with the knowledge and tools to harm us. International students far outnumber their American peers in critical graduate degree programs — electrical and petroleum engineering 81%, computer science 79%, industrial engineering 75%, statistics 69%, and more. 

According to the National Science Foundation, temporary visa holders earned more than half of U.S. doctoral degrees in economics, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics, and statistics — and the numbers continue to grow. At New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering alone, international students comprise 73% of the total enrollment in the engineering graduate program.

Between foreign contributions and foreign students, colleges generate billions of dollars in revenue, with total revenues exceeding 30% for some institutions.  

Now is the time to take action on foreign influence in American higher education. The risks are too important to ignore, and as universities grow more reliant on foreign monies, the threat to our national security will become greater.

Our intelligence community needs to do a better job working with universities to educate them about potential threats of foreign influence on campuses and in labs. At the same time, we need to strengthen the student visa vetting process to reduce the foreign intelligence risks. Congress should also play a role and must develop legislation barring foreign contributions from nefarious countries flowing into our university campuses.

Exceptional institutions of higher education are one of our national treasures — we must treat them as that with care and protection. 

Nicholas Giordano is a professor of Political Science at Suffolk Community College in New York and a Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 

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