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Chinese researcher nabbed with liquid-filled vials at Logan not first snagged in federal crackdown; at least 18 similar seizures at airport this year

Two days after prosecutors unsealed the case against a Chinese researcher they charge tried to sneak 21 vials of biological samples from Beth Israel out of the country, Brigham and Women's Hospital is warning all of its doctors and researchers not to make the same mistake.

Three foreign researchers at Partners hospitals - which include Brigham and Women's and Mass. General - were caught at Logan last month "when they attempted to export or import materials hidden in their luggage without declaring them," Dr. Paul Anderson, the hospital's chief academic officer, said in a memo today to the hospital's "principal Investigators, researchers and research administrators."

Their visas were cancelled, and they were returned to their home countries. While we are working to have their visas reinstated, there is no guarantee we will be successful. Their actions have resulted in a significant disruption of their scientific work at great personal cost.

Anderson continued:

At a recent meeting of Boston hospital research officials with FBI agents and other law enforcement officials, we learned the Partners situations were not isolated incidents. They are part of a nation-wide enforcement action to control biological materials entering the country that may present a threat to national security, health, and safety and to reduce the theft of intellectual property developed in the US, much of it with federal funds. There have been approximately 18 interceptions at Logan Airport resulting in confiscation and visa cancellation. Materials were hidden in vitamin bottles, slippers, and socks. The Boston Office of the US Attorney has initiated legal action against three of the individuals involved and has indicated it intends to pursue a tough enforcement agenda. Individuals transporting materials without appropriate authorization, permits, licenses, or customs declarations may be charged with smuggling, transport of hazardous materials on a commercial airline, or theft of intellectual property or trade secrets, among other offenses. These are serious charges that could result in jail time and fines.

Anderson wrote that researchers with legitimate reasons to ship biological materials overseas can do so by getting authorization from the hospital, writing any documentation needed by US federal agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, the CDC or the FDA - and by packing them appropriately for shipment via a "common carrier" equipped to handle them, such as FedEx.

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Comments

Ya know, just until we figure out what the hell is going on.

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Voting closed 21

n/t

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Voting closed 6

The tone of the CAO makes no sense. The hospital system has had three Chinese nationals caught smuggling materials out of the country, but Partners' chief concern is that their visas were cancelled and their research was interrupted? They want to help them get their visas reinstated, so they can return to work at the American hospitals whose intellectual property they stole? If the hospital was OK with the materials being removed, why didn't they fill out the proper paperwork and have it FedEx'd to wherever they wanted it to go?

I feel like there's a big piece of this story missing.

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Voting closed 100

Where did you find the information that any of the Partners researchers who were detained, let alone all three, were "Chinese nationals"? Because all that the BWH email says is that "[t]heir visas were cancelled, and they were returned to their home countries." (Note the plural.)

I do agree that the tone of this warning seems oddly light-hearted, though - the subject line is "Don't Take Biological Materials on Planes, Trains, or Automobiles | Holiday Travel Reminder."

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I was just about to post the same question. I can't understand why Partners would want to reinstate the visas of people who not only stole samples but were transporting them unsafely, which is a potential public health hazard depending on what they contained.

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Voting closed 36

In the US a lot of the large research grant mechanisms are awarded directly to individuals (the "principal investigator") rather than a host institution or university. This means that the grant money is directly associated with the person and if the person leaves or moves her lab the grant money often moves along with it.

From the other posting where the person supposedly admitted that the samples were "for my lab in china" this also indicates that the person is a senior researcher rather than some early career postdoc.

Long story short loss of visa for someone with millions or tens of millions in grant funded awards would be very bad for the institution (because they rake indirect money off of the grant for providing core services) and bad for all the other students, postdocs, techs and employees who may be working in the lab operated by the PI who applied for and won the grant(s).

But I'm just guessing here. They could just want the visas reinstated so it is easier for them to perform the termination, transfer of duties, sorting out grant money etc

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Voting closed 18

admitted that the samples were "for my lab in china" this also indicates that the person is a senior researcher rather than some early career postdoc.

He is identified as a 29 year old student.

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Voting closed 11

I was the project officer for a grant were the PI died. They couldn't take it with them. The University proposed that another researcher lead the work, and my organization accepted that once the board approved the change.

You can't take research grants made to US institutions by US government agencies overseas.

If a PI is fired or leaves, the granting entity can accept a suitable replacement as the new PI.

Sometimes a PI decides to designate another researcher due to medical issues, retirement, promotions - if approved, this works too.

Grants are awarded to institutions on the condition that they be led by designated individuals, but this does not mean that the money is frangible. The only time the money follows the researcher is in cases where an institution becomes unable to support the researcher or there is egregious administrator overreach (like when some sexist racist oinkerboomer unfit to command a dinghy wants to screw over a young innovative researcher and give it to an assbuddy of his - e.g. the trick Larry Asswipe Summers tried to pull). Even in that situation, the granting entity needs to approve the change of institution, in the same way that they have to approve a change of PI.

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I know nothing about this case, but (speaking generally) young researchers/post doctoral fellows, often train abroad with financial support from their home countries. China provides stipends for 1-2 years of training at prestigious institutions in the US and in Europe. The grant in the US lab that supports the research, does not have to support the salary of such a postdoc, so this is looked on favorably by principal investigators--salaries can consume a lot of the direct costs, so not having to pay them means more of the grant money can be used to pay for supplies and equipment (and the work can progress more quickly). Also sometimes early career researchers can have their own postdoctoral awards, which they can use at any accredited institution as long as they have a faculty member who is willing to supervise and provide lab space/access to needed equipment. In both examples, when the person leaves, so does that money. Even established investigators, if they move from one university to another, often take their grants with them (with the permission of the granting agency.)

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Voting closed 7

"frangible" means breakable. I think the word you want is "fungible". But what I really want to know is which Larry Summers episode you are referring to. The man may or may not be an asswipe, but he has definitely been subjected to some unfounded accusations.

By the way, you are to be commended in that both "frangible" and "fungible", two useful words, are in your vocabulary, even if you mix them up from time to time. Personally I mix up words, dates, colors, continents, and occasionally relatives, so I don't regard this as too great a lapse.

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The researchers in those cases may not have been stealing intellectual property — perhaps they had permission from collaborators to take the materials but didn’t get the proper government approval because they didn’t know it was needed or felt it would be a hassle. These appear to be separate cases from the Chinese student at BI, which indeed appears to be intellectual (and literal) property theft.

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Voting closed 7

May have been beneficial in this situation

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Voting closed 6

There have been approximately 18 interceptions at Logan Airport resulting in confiscation and visa cancellation. Materials were hidden in vitamin bottles, slippers, and socks.

Brigham and Women's Hospital is warning all of its doctors and researchers not to make the same mistake.

Three foreign researchers at Partners hospitals - which include Brigham and Women's and Mass. General - were caught at Logan last month "when they attempted to export or import materials hidden in their luggage without declaring them," Dr. Paul Anderson, the hospital's chief academic officer, said in a memo today to the hospital's "principal Investigators, researchers and research administrators."

Their visas were cancelled, and they were returned to their home countries. While we are working to have their visas reinstated, there is no guarantee we will be successful. Their actions have resulted in a significant disruption of their scientific work at great personal cost.

Does anyone see anything peculiar about the relative tone of the two quotes from the story

The facts of the case:

  • 18 interceptions of Chinese Nationals smuggling biological material out of the US -- that we know of just here at Logan. We know that there have been other similar incidents involving Chinese Nationals at M.D. Anderson in Houston
  • Some amount of lying to Federal Agents when the Chinese Nationals were caught "Red Handed"

So how does our illustrious Harvard Medical School Affiliated Teaching Hospital react:

  • warning all of its doctors and researchers not to make the same mistake.
  • we are working to have their visas reinstated

Suppose that the people arrested had worked for a jewelry distributor such as The Jewelry Exchange in Sudbury and had been caught with diamonds, or worked for Skyworks in Woburn and had been caught with semiconductors. I doubt that either company would be mostly concerned in getting the visas back for their employees.

Perhaps Partners needs to rethink how it relates to Chinese Nationals in view of the continuing and indeed perhaps intensifying espionage both industrial and military conducted as a policy by China through its myriads of Graduate Students and Post Docs strategically placed throughout the west

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Voting closed 19

I don’t think from the cited articles that we know the nationalities of the 18 travelers who were intercepted.

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I don’t think from the cited articles that we know the nationalities of the 18 travelers who were intercepted.

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We used to FedEx DNA to PI’s over in Germany. Back in the late ‘90s, for an NIH grant. Things have changed I guess!

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The PI's in Germany in the 90's were probably legitimately cooperating in research. The Commie Bastards currently enslaving the people of mainland China, are engaged in an all-out effort to steal American research. They are doing it in multiple industries and scientific fields. They are paying for members of their "special" class to attend graduate school right here in Boston, and stealing from us every day. Andrew Lelling, don't let them off.

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Voting closed 11

I take my DNA with me wherever I go. It's safer that way.

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18 year Federal researcher with seizures snagged in liquid-filled vials; Logan crackdown at first nabbed at least 18 similar Chinese not at this airport

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"Chinese Take Out" would have been my headline preference.

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Voting closed 12

The world may now rest easy.
Randall Flagg has been foiled again!

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