1/ Three weeks ago I got a call on my cell phone from an FBI officer who said they wanted to meet in person to talk about my research.

This is a short thread about what I've learned since then about the FBI's interest in basic science / scientists.
2/ They asked to meet in three days, but I postponed for two weeks.

The first thing I did, of course, was to call the relevant FBI field office to confirm the officer's identity. They did; it was a real call.

The second thing I did was to contact the university legal department
3/ What followed was about a week of going back and forth with my university's General Counsel and with its Office of Compliance (which was in conversation with the FBI). I was just trying to figure out what this meeting was about and what my options were.
4/ I don't want to editorialize too much, but you can imagine that this was a nervous time for me. I had absolutely no idea why the FBI would be interested in me specifically. (I still don't.)

Was it because I had spoken out recently about Gang Chen?
5/ Was it because I have collaborators in China? Or in Russia?
Was it because of some topic I am working on?

Was it because I had recently hosted a colloquium speaker who is an activist + critic of the DOJ's China Initiative?
(go watch his talk:)
6/ To be clear: my group does purely theoretical research. We do not work on anything confidential or sensitive. We have no industry partners, and anything we figure out gets immediately published in the public domain.

Most of our work is laughably far from any technology.
7/ The university told me that such meetings with the FBI are "informational and appropriate". They said it was "for my benefit for informational purposes".
"The goal is to give faculty specific information about emerging risks" from "threat actors (China, Iran, Russia, etc)".
8/ "[The FBI is] specifically concerned about China’s 'military-civil fusion strategy' ... to acquire and divert foreign technologies"
"[They] may also be looking at sponsored F1 and J1 students and visitors."

They referred me to this list:
9/ I also learned that the agent had violated protocol: they are supposed to contact faculty by going through the relevant university office.
And I was told that the meetings are "truly voluntary".

Given this information, I declined the meeting.
10/ I am not trying to be alarmist, or to accuse anyone of bad behavior. (As I said, I didn't even go to the meeting)

But be aware: the FBI is watching fundamental academic research right now, with an eye on China and (imo) only a dim understanding of how academic research works
11/11 If you get a similar call, be aware that you don't have to attend the meeting, and that you have the right to legal counsel.

Most importantly: the time to be advocating for the importance of open, international scientific collaboration is now.

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