At Committee Hearing, Portman Highlights Importance of FBI Involvement in Combating Intelligence Threat of Confucius Institutes & Need to Stem Flow of Illegal Drugs into the Country

November 5, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the homeland, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted the importance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) being actively involved in combating the influx of deadly drugs across the Southwest border into the United States. Portman recently introduced new legislation – the Combating Meth & Cocaine Act – to give states more flexibility to use federal funding to address the resurgence of meth and cocaine that are coming into the U.S. from Mexico. He also introduced the FIGHT Fentanyl Act to permanently list fentanyl as a Schedule I drug. 

In addition, Portman discussed the importance of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) informing the higher education community about the threat posed by Confucius Institutes which are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government at U.S. colleges and universities. Earlier this year, Portman and Senator Tom Carpers (D-DE), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), released a bipartisan report detailing the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $150 million in support from the Chinese government.

A transcript of his remarks is below and a video of his questioning can be found here:


Portman: “Thanks to the three of you for some great testimony today and most importantly for what you and the men and women in your organizations do every day to keep us safe. I noticed in your opening statement Director Wray, you talked about the Thousand Talents program and, as you may know, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, with Senator Carper and others, we’re in the process of looking into that issue and have done a series of hearings on related items, including on the Confucius Institutes. In fact, we did a Confucius Institute report that indicates that there are limitations that China places on the activities here, including censorship as an example, and not allowing the academic community here to discuss topics they believe are politically sensitive, such as the Tiananmen Square uprising or something like that. But as you say, it goes well beyond Confucius Institutes. You said that China is abusing the Thousand Talents program. I wrote that you also said that the FBI has about a thousand cases, coincidently, investigating the technology transfer and you said that universities should be smarter about defending themselves. I guess my question would be, what efforts has the FBI taken in order to inform the higher education community about this threat and what has your response been?”

FBI Director Christopher Wray: “So I think you’ve put your finger on an important issue. The role of academia in our country, especially given the amount of taxpayer-funded research there is in particular, is a key component to this counter-intelligence threat. So in addition to investigations, and I can’t give you the number out of a thousand that involve universities and in particular, graduate students and researchers, but certainly it’s a significant number. But in addition to the investigations, we are much more actively engaged with major universities in encouraging them and informing them so that they can take appropriate action, voluntarily, but robustly to guard against the threat. As far as the reaction we’ve gotten, it varies but I have actually been quite encouraged by quite a number of universities which a few years ago would not have wanted to meet with the FBI under any circumstances, much less in the kind of partnership way that’s occurring now, including very good responsiveness from Ohio State. I’ve met with them and we had an academic summit in FBI headquarters, just about a month ago, where we brought in chancellors and others from universities all across the country, a whole bunch of our SACs, and kind of briefed them on some of the threats and had an engagement on how we can work more constructively together to help them defend themselves.”

Portman: “Well, our information is that Ohio State certainly and some other schools have expressed their interest in working even more with you and appreciate what has been done. They also, I think are not providing us the transparency we need to know whether there is a problem. Would you agree with that?”

Director Wray: “Well, I would probably let Ohio State speak for itself in terms of its own transparency.”

Portman: “I’m not talking about Ohio State, I am talking about just in general we found out as you may know in our investigation as an example that about 70 percent of the schools were not properly reporting the foreign government payments that they were receiving with regard to the Confucius Institutes. So the transparency although some of it is in law already and not being followed is not adequate in our view. Is that your view?”

Director Wray: “I think it is fair to say there is a lot of room for improvement but we are seeing improvement.”

Portman: “Let me talk about another issue that is a national security threat for our entire country but for Ohio particularly hard-hit and that is the drug crisis and the epidemic of overdoses and deaths. We know that the southern border has lots of challenges, one is certainly the drug issue. We know that crystal meth which is the new drug that is causing havoc in our communities in Ohio but also heroin and cocaine comes almost exclusively across that southern border and my question to you is really about what is happening. You see a significant reduction in terms of crossings. I am looking at some data here that compares last month to the month of May as an example, almost a one third reduction in crossings or at least in apprehensions which would indicate crossings. So the number of people coming over has slowed considerably. Still a significant issue but not like it was and yet from all indications we have, the drug flow has not been reduced even though many have linked some of these same traffickers who bring people across as bringing drugs across. Can you speak to that and talk about how these drugs are coming over and Under Secretary Glawe if you would like to speak too, that would be helpful to this issue but what more can we do of course on the border but also what is the relationship between people crossing and drugs crossing?”

DHS Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis David Glawe: “Senator, thank you for the question. Just to give you the numbers from 2017 to 2019 so you know what we are dealing with on the narcotic flows. We have seen a 40 percent increase in cocaine from seizures at the Southwest border. We have seen a 20 percent increase in fentanyl. We have seen a 30 percent increase in heroin and to your point we have seen a 200 percent increase in methamphetamine and that is in addition to the emergency on the border we had with the migrant flows and Border Patrol and Office of Air and Marine and our office of field operations being taken off line for just detention. So we have a crisis at the Southwest border and it is all based on moving people and goods illicitly across the border and that is what it is about, cartels are about moving goods and people across the Southwest border.”

Portman: “So with almost one third fewer people have you seen any reduction in the drug flow because we certainly haven’t experienced that on the other end.”

Under Secretary Glawe: “No, we have seen it increase. We have seen an increase. And that is what we are apprehending. So those numbers are probably low. That is what we are catching. It is what else is going in. So we have seen those increases in the last two years and the cartels are a sophisticated business about moving supplies in the United States. They are as good as any major business -- their profits it ranges largely but they are a Fortune 500 company and it is all about moving illicit goods across the border and it is a sophisticated network of and I am sure you have heard the names of plaza bosses which run and control what moves across the Southwest border and their trafficking supply chains and their relationships with China which is now so the fentanyl production is moving into Mexico. It is very sophisticated, very robust and constantly changing and dynamic.”

Portman: “I would love to follow up with you on that and maybe a QFR (question for the record) here on the fentanyl issue. My sense is there is not a lot of production of fentanyl in Mexico but there is processing. They are getting it just as we were getting it through the mail system and still do by the way. They are getting it to Mexico, often converting it into a pill form and then sending it over and again a huge increase compared to even a few years ago so a new threat on the border. But look I think the demand side is key here. We have done a lot of work on that, we will continue to on prevention and recovery programs, treatment but we have got to do something to deal with the flow too, because this crystal meth I will tell you in the streets of Columbus, Ohio I’m told is less expensive than marijuana and deadly and so we would appreciate any input you have as to how we can do a better job to reduce that supply at a minimum not just reducing the poison coming into our communities but reducing the impact because it will increase the cost.”

Under Secretary Glawe: “Senator, I’d just follow up as far as action doing this it is a sophisticated approach that goes just beyond law enforcement. It is partnership with our U.S. intelligence community partners, our Mexican intelligence community partners, the Mexican military as well as our military and that partnership is robust and we have a very good relationship with our Mexico partners but it is really upping the game and a strategy to impact these groups that is going to have to go city by city, state by state. As I mentioned to Chairman Johnson earlier, there are some areas that are primarily controlled by the cartels in that supply chain and it’s very sophisticated and will require a real strategic approach to how we’re doing business.”