At Hearing, Secretary Pompeo Says Portman’s Bipartisan China Legislation is Needed to Combat Theft of U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research

Pompeo Also Supports Increased Funding for Lethal Aid to Ukraine in NDAA & Global Engagement Center’s Efforts to Fight Back Against Disinformation

July 30, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINTON, DC – Today, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed with U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) on the need for the State Department to have the right toolset in order to combat China’s theft of U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property. Portman’s bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, will help prevent this from happening. There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19-related research. The Senate Republicans’ HEALS coronavirus rescue package provides for a massive taxpayer funded investment in more COVID-19 research and includes this legislation to ensure that research is protected.

Pompeo also announced his support for the recent increase in funding for lethal aid to Ukraine in order for the country to better protect itself from ongoing Russian aggression. Portman, as co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, announced last week that the Senate-passed FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes $250 million in security assistance for Ukraine to fund additional training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, and advisory efforts for Ukraine’s forces.  Specifically, $125 million of that $250 million is designated specifically for lethal assistance, an increase of $75 million from FY20.

Finally, Pompeo acknowledged the importance of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) and its efforts to combat disinformation and propaganda, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Portman and Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) bipartisan legislation – the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act – was signed into law in December 2016 as part of the FY 2017 NDAA Conference Report. The law improves the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation by establishing an interagency center, GEC, within the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government.

Excerpts from the hearing can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and appreciate your having the opportunity to let us talk to the Secretary of State today. This has been very helpful, very informative. I will say with regard to China and developing technologies with our allies, we have a lot to do right here in the United States to get our own house in order. So we’re pretty good at pointing fingers at China and it’s usually appropriate, but we also aren’t doing much here to protect ourselves. And I want to thank you because you have provided some great help from your career professionals with regard to our efforts to push back against China taking our technology. And in particular, China has these programs. You mentioned they’ve been doing it for a while. They’ve been doing it for two decades where they come over here, they find promising research and researchers. They systematically target them and then they take that research over to China. And it is military, it is economic, it’s health care, it’s everything.

“And over the last couple of years, we have conducted an investigation, written a report, and have created legislation called the Safe American Innovation Act. But with regard to the State Department piece of this, your career people have come and testify before us said that they need more tools to be able to stop folks who they know are coming here to deal with export control technologies, who are coming over here to actually steal our stuff and take it back to China. But they are unable to stop these people from coming in despite affiliations with the People’s Liberation Army, affiliations with the Chinese Communist Party, who in many cases, as you know, have a history of taking research.

“So we worked with one of your Pierson Fellows. You told me about the Pierson fellowship, and I took advantage of it. In the last year, Mark Wuebbels has been working with us. He’s a Consular Affairs Officer. He’s done a terrific job and we have put together some legislation that’s very balanced. It says hey, we want research. We want American research enterprise to benefit from the international cooperation, but we don’t want to have this U.S. taxpayer-funded research being stolen. So I thank you for that. I would just ask you do you agree that these new visa authorities we have in that legislation are helpful to protect taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from our adversaries, including China?”

Secretary Mike Pompeo, U.S. State Department:They definitely are, and we need an expanded toolset to make sure that we get this right. We’re making progress. Our teams working alongside the FBI to identify these risks are working hard on this set of issues. I will say this too. We all need to be candid when we go back to our home states and we talk to the universities in our states. The “education industrial” complex is alive and well. We need to be candid with them about what’s taking place in some of these institutions of higher learning all across America and be thoughtful about how we respond to this influence in the theft operation that being conducted.”

Portman: That’s absolutely right and, you know, there are five different provisions in the legislation. One of them relates directly to our universities and research institutions. And to their credit, a number of them who’ve worked with us and we work with them. Senator Carper and I have taken the lead on this and this legislation. It’s a bipartisan bill, bipartisan supporters, but there are universities and associations that are pushing back hard and frankly, I think they are naive and aren’t willing to face up to the threat that’s out there. And it’s a national security threat. I’m glad that over the last couple of weeks that we have had the opportunity to confirm some good nominees from the Department of State and I’m concerned at the backlog buildup to the point where you really had a tough time running the department and there’s more to go. We have more nominees coming up next week. I understand we may have finally the nominee for the ambassador to Japan at a critical time.

“One I want to ask you about though in particular is Ukraine and, you know, Senator Cardin is not here today, but you know, back in 2014 we went over to Ukraine right after the Revolution of Dignity. And in those six years intervening, a lot of good has happened in Ukraine. A lot of bad has happened too, and we see it right now we’re once again at a tipping point. The cease fire is not holding. I understand there’ve been about 100 violations of it recently. The Russian aggression continues. Ukraine made a decision six years ago to turn to us in the west and yet, we still have a situation where they’re not getting the support that the need. So two questions for you. How important is it to get Lieutenant General Dayton confirmed as the Ambassador in Ukraine, number one? I think he’s a highly qualified. I’m really pleased with that nomination. And number two, do you agree with what we just did in the National Defense Authorization Act , which was to have a record amount of lethal aid going to Ukraine? We’ve gone from roughly $50 million to $125 million in that legislation. Do you support that increased funding for lethal aid for Ukraine to be able to defend itself?”

Secretary Pompeo: “I do. The administration does support of the increase in lethal aid. It’s important to get the general out there. Although I will say, our chargé on the ground they are today is doing very, very good work. But it’s important to get a confirmed ambassador in that position. If I might just add this to, we’re still thinking it was a real loss when Ambassador Volker departed.  The work that he was doing was important to the State Department’s overall effort in the region and were hoping to get deposition with just the right person filled as well so that we have a full on effort there to help the Ukrainian people maintain their democracy.”

Portman: We’ll have a chance to talk to Lieutenant General Dayton, at least remotely, when he comes. But he’s done a good job, in my view, of modernizing their military and, you know, does the Ukrainian issues inside and out. And he’s the right person at the right time and I’m pleased he’s going to step up and do it. It was a good choice.

“With regard to Germany, just my point of you for what it’s worth, I’m not asking you a question here particularly, but I think moving troops out of Germany is a good idea if they stay in Europe. And in particular, Poland has been asking for years now, you know, to allow for U.S. troops to come to Poland. They’ve even offered us a base. I was there several years ago where they agreed to, you know, pay for the base. I don’t know if that’s still an offer. But the Baltics, Eastern Europe in particular, it seems to me that that’s the appropriate place to move those troops. And I agree that Germany is not the right place for the number of troops that we have. Rather, they should be closer to where the action is and frankly, the countries that are at most risk right now. So, I don’t know if you have any comment on that, but I would hope that they would be able to stay in Europe.”

Secretary Pompeo:Senator, the only thing I’ll add, I’ll leave to the Department of Defense to talk about exact dispositions and numbers in particular countries. But with respect to Poland, we don’t yet have our defense cooperation agreement quite done. So, the State Department’s working diligently with our DOD colleagues to get that done so that, in the event the Department of Defense makes that decision, the president concludes is the right thing to do, we can put those forces in there in a way that protects them as well.”

Portman: Finally, just on Global Engagement Center, thanks to Senator Murphy for raising those issues. He asked the same kind of questions that I would have asked. Lea Gabrielle, in my view, is doing a terrific job with trying to reorder and, you know, take the DOD money that is now going to go directly to you and use it more effectively. We, of course, agree with you that that needs to be well spent. There is a timely example of this. The United States, under your leadership, has provided $2.3 billion congressionally appropriated money to help other countries combat COVID-19. And I think we’ve gotten very little credit for it, and I hope that we can do more in terms of talking about what we’re doing that’s helpful. But what’s happened is instead China and Russia are spreading disinformation. And we’ve heard about it here in this committee, saying that, you know, the virus was created a lab by Bill Gates, or that COVID-19 was brought to China by American soldiers, other false narratives. Global Engagement Center is the perfect place to push back on that, and I hope we’re doing that. I don’t know if you have any comment on that.”

Secretary Pompeo: “No, sir. We’re working on that. It’s important. I actually think, with respect to COVID, I think the world gets it. I think they know who the bad actor here was. They can’t all say publicly, but I’m convinced that the efforts not only that the United States has made but other countries too to push back against this disinformation have been powerful and effective.”