Scientists as spies? Assessing U.S. claims about the security threat posed by China’s Thousand Talents Program for the U.S. life sciences

Kathleen M. Vogel, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In 2008, the Chinese government created the Thousand Talents Program (TTP) to recruit overseas expertise to build up China's science and technology knowledge and innovation base. Ten years later, in 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced a new China Initiative that aimed to counter the transfer by U.S.-based scientists involved in the TTP of knowledge and intellectual property that could support China's military and economic might and pose threats to U.S. national security. This initiative launched a number of investigations into major U.S. federal funding agencies and universities and charged several scientists, many of them life scientists, with failing to accurately report their work and affiliations with Chinese entities and illegally transferring scientific information to China. Although the FBI cases demonstrate a clear problem with disclosure of foreign contracts and research integrity among some TTP recipients, they have failed to demonstrate any harm to U.S. national security interests. At the heart of this controversy are core questions that remain unresolved and need more attention: What is required to transfer and develop knowledge to further a country's science and technology ambitions? And can the knowledge acquired by a visiting scientist be easily used to further a country's ambitions? Drawing on literature from the field of science and technology studies, this article discusses the key issues that should be considered in evaluating this question in the Chinese context and the potential scientific, intelligence, and policy implications of knowledge transfer as it relates to the TTP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-64
Number of pages33
JournalPolitics and the Life Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 3 2023


  • China
  • Thousand Talents Program
  • intelligence
  • life sciences
  • policy
  • security
  • tacit knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Public Administration


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