WASHINGTON – U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) yesterday asked the FBI why the bureau is suspending the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board (NSHEAB), which served as a forum between the U.S. intelligence community and U.S. academic institutions regarding foreign nations’ academic espionage.
The letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray requests documents and information regarding the FBI’s decision to suspend NSHEAB and the FBI’s plans for its other academic outreach efforts. The letter notes that FBI officials, while briefing committee staff, said that they were unaware of NSHEAB’s status despite the FBI having informed academic institutions of the suspension nearly a month prior.
The letter follows the committee’s April 11 hearing focused on foreign nations’ exploitation of U.S. academic institutions for the purpose of accessing and engaging in the exfiltration of valuable science and technology research and development.
The letter reads in part:
[T]he Committee is investigating attempts by foreign nations to exploit federally-funded academic scientific research. As part of this investigation, the Committee engaged the FBI to provide information on academic espionage. Unfortunately, it appears that the FBI may have failed to provide the Committee with a full and complete picture of the status of its efforts related to academic espionage during its engagement with the Committee. […]
On March 19, 2018, the FBI provided an unclassified briefing to Committee staff on the general topic of foreign threats to U.S. academic research and development. […] When Committee staff inquired about the current status of the NSHEAB, FBI officials stated they were unaware of the Board’s current status, and affirmed that this status was not classified in nature.
Just before the Committee’s April 11, 2018, hearing, four associations representing all major U.S. research universities and higher education institutions provided the Committee with testimony and a letter showing the FBI notified participating academic institutions of their decision to “suspend some specialized programs, including the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, and create new strategic partnerships.” This letter to participating academic institutions was dated February 21, 2018, nearly one month prior to the Committee briefing. It is unclear how the FBI officials, who briefed Committee staff, were not aware of such an action when briefing the Committee on topics directly relating to the work of the NSHEAB.
The letter is signed by Chairman Smith, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.), Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.).
On April 11, 2018, the Oversight Subcommittee and Research and Technology Subcommittee held a joint hearing to explore foreign nations’ exploitation of U.S. academic institutions for the purpose of accessing and engaging in the exfiltration of valuable science and technology research and development.