WASHINGTON D.C. – Earlier this month, U.S. officials warned American firms to safeguard their research against efforts by China to steal U.S. technology. In response, a group of senators including Arizona’s Sen. Martha McSally introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Act.
The bill co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) is aimed at preventing China from stealing or sabotaging American COVID-19 vaccine research. The bill requires a thorough national security evaluation and clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of all Chinese student visa holders taking part in activities related to COVID-19 vaccine research.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Britain’s National Cyber Security Center recently issued a statement saying hackers are “actively targeting organizations … that include healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, academia, medical research organizations, and local government.” The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also issued a recent public service announcement warning organizations researching COVID-19 of likely insider threat targeting and network compromise by China.
“Communist China has hacked into American systems to steal research and technology for decades. Now, Americans are waking up to China’s adversarial actions on many fronts with the coronavirus. Our bill aims to protect the United States’ COVID-19 vaccine research from China’s ongoing attempts to steal our science and harm Americans,” said McSally in a press release.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Act:
- Requires a thorough national security evaluation and clearance by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of all Chinese student visa holders taking part in activities related to COVID-19 vaccine research, who are currently in the United States before issuing any new student visas to nationals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
- Requires DHS, in consultation with State Department, DOJ, FBI, CISA, USCIS, ODNI and HHS, to complete an enhanced vetting of nationals of the PRC currently in the U.S. as nonimmigrants under F, J, or M student visas to determine if any student visa holders are a national security threat.
- Once the review is complete, authorizes DHS secretary, in consultation with all the above agencies, to continuously monitor all nonimmigrant student visa holders (F, M, J) who are nationals of the PRC while in the U.S. and are engaged in, or have access to, the research of any potential COVID-19 vaccine or COVID-19 related material.
- Requires a briefing to Congress on the results of the review.
Senator Rick Scott said, “Communist China is responsible for the Coronavirus pandemic, and their lies and misinformation cost American lives. We cannot let Communist China off the hook for this, and we absolutely cannot allow Communist China to steal or sabotage any American research efforts related to the Coronavirus vaccine. The COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Act protects American efforts to create a vaccine as we work to end this pandemic.”
“The Chinese Communist Party wants to steal or sabotage the vaccine for the pandemic it caused. The federal government ought to investigate Chinese nationals taking part in vaccine research to prevent this spying, which follows the same playbook Beijing uses to steal our research in other fields of study,” Cotton said.
“The same Chinese Communist Party that covered up the coronavirus outbreak also routinely engages in state sponsored theft of intellectual property,” said Cruz. “We cannot allow China to steal or interfere with American research and development of a vaccine. I’m proud to join my colleagues on this important measure to protect American medical innovation and will continue working to counter China’s aggression.”