Texas cancer center ousts 3 over Chinese data theft concerns

MD Anderson Cancer Center. (mdanderson)
Updated 21 April 2019

Texas cancer center ousts 3 over Chinese data theft concerns

  • A 2017 FBI report found that intellectual-property theft by China costs the US as much as $600 billion annually

HOUSTON: A prominent cancer center in Houston has ousted three of five scientists whom federal authorities identified as being involved in Chinese efforts to steal American research.
Peter Pisters, the president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, told the Houston Chronicle that the National Institutes of Health wrote to the cancer center last year detailing conflicts of interest and unreported foreign income by five faculty members, and gave it 30 days to respond.
“As stewards of taxpayer dollars invested in biomedical research, we have an obligation to follow up,” Pisters said. MD Anderson received $148 million in NIH grants last year.
The center provided internal documents to the Chronicle regarding the cases but the names of the scientists were redacted. The newspaper said all three are ethnically Chinese. Two of them resigned ahead of termination proceedings and the third is challenging the dismissal.
Officials determined termination was not warranted for one of the remaining two and are still investigating the other.
It’s not clear if any of them face federal charges or deportation. An FBI spokeswoman in Houston, Christina Garza, said Saturday that the agency “does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.”
Pisters said MD Anderson’s reputation as the world’s No. 1 cancer center made it an obvious target, but the newspaper report doesn’t say what evidence of intellectual property theft was uncovered at the facility.
The dismissals come amid heightened concern in Washington, D.C., that foreign governments including China have been using students and visiting scholars to pilfer intellectual property from confidential grant applications.
At a gathering in Houston last summer, FBI officials warned Texas academic and medical institutions of the threat, particularly from insiders, and called on them to notify the agency of any suspicious behavior.
A 2017 FBI report found that intellectual-property theft by China costs the US as much as $600 billion annually. FBI Director Christopher Wray has called China “the broadest, most significant” threat to the nation and that its espionage is active in all 50 states.
“This is part of a much larger issue the country is facing,” Pisters told the Chronicle. “Trying to balance an open collaborative environment and at the same time protect proprietary information and commercial interests.”
Some Chinese Americans say the crackdown amounts to racial profiling and that it hinders groundbreaking research.
“Scientific research depends on the free flow of ideas,” Frank H. Wu, president of the New York-based Committee of 100, a group of influential Chinese Americans, told the newspaper. “Our national interest is best advanced by welcoming people, not by racial stereotyping based on where a person comes from.”


Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 34 min 9 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.