Thursday, June 13, 2024

EU wants universities to work with intelligence agencies to protect their research

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Europe’s leading research universities should work more closely with the continent’s intelligence agencies to help secure their research from being stolen by hostile states, EU member states recommended this week.

The risks of “undesirable transfer of knowledge, foreign interference, and ethical or integrity violations” have been increasingly stressed in recent years following major espionage efforts believed to be sponsored by the Chinese state.

A recommendation adopted by EU member states on Thursday aims to “address research security risks deriving from international cooperation,” and highlights the sensitivities around frontier technologies.

Technology areas including “advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum and biotechnologies” are assessed as particularly critical for the European Union’s economic security.

One of the key recommendations adopted by the Council this week includes facilitating information exchange between research organizations and intelligence services “for example through classified and non-classified briefings or dedicated liaison officers” so they can keep abreast of the risks facing research in these areas.

Another recommendation calls for an increased political focus on the challenges that intellectual property theft and knowledge transfer can pose, with member states being asked to “develop or reinforce cross-sectoral cooperation within government, notably bringing together policy-makers responsible for higher education, research and innovation, trade, foreign affairs, intelligence and security.”

The proposals come amid an increasing recognition of the threat in the West, with the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency warning university heads in April that they were being targeted by foreign states.

Among the measures being considered by the British government is having MI5, the domestic security service, carry out security vetting on key researchers involved in a “small proportion of academic work, with a particular focus on research with potential dual uses in civilian and military life.”

Such vetting may make it possible for senior officials to receive intelligence briefings from the security services to help them keep their institutions safe.

A similar program is in place in the United States, where the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s Safeguarding Science initiative attempts to help the research community “design measures to guard against the potential misuse or theft” of key technologies.

Alongside the persistent threat from China, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, experts warned Western companies to be on “full alert” for cyberattacks from Moscow’s intelligence services engaging in industrial espionage.

At the time, Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Programme — who was himself the target of an attempted hack-and-leak attack conducted by a group attributed to the Russian security services — said there was a sense the West has forgotten how active the Russian intelligence services used to be in this space.

“While we are open to knowledge exchange and international cooperation in the field of research, we should not be naïve. The changing geopolitical context urgently requires our joint response to avoid a use of our own research against our security or our values,” said Willy Borsus, a Belgian politician.

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