Chancellor Linda Katehi has been appointed to the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which promotes discussion and outreach between research universities and the FBI.
The board was established in 2005 and includes about 20 presidents and chancellors of major research universities. The chair is Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University. Because of the nature of some of the material they discuss, board members must hold “secret” security clearances.
The board is part of an increasing engagement between the FBI and institutions of higher education, including UC Davis, to wit:
• In August, UC Davis and the FBI organized a major symposium on hospitals, computer security and cyberterrorism. Read Dateline's coverage.
• In the next few months, agent Brian Buckley of the bureau's Sacramento office will begin a series of presentations for UC Davis faculty and researchers on security, intellectual property and counterintelligence issues that affect the university. More information on the campus-FBI presentations will be announced later.
Today (Oct. 12), Drew Parenti, special agent in charge of the Sacramento office, presented awards on behalf of FBI Director Robert Mueller to five people from UC Davis who have helped develop the relationship so far: Enrique Lavernia, provost and executive vice chancellor; Barry Klein, former vice chancellor for research; Ahmad Hakim-Elahi, associate vice chancellor, Sponsored Programs; Stephen Drown, campus counsel; and Mitchel Benson, assistant vice chancellor, University Communications.
The bureau's concerns about higher education include violent acts by "animal rights" extremists, illicit acquisition and export of sensitive technologies, and outright theft of information that could compromise national security.
Buckley acknowledged that campus culture is accustomed to openness and free exchange of information. But, he said, there are serious, ongoing attempts by foreign countries to acquire U.S. technology and intellectual property.
With major investments in areas such as sustainable energy, agricultural production and nanotechnology, UC Davis is working on key technologies for the future. The university and the bureau have a mutual need to interact to ensure that researchers' work is protected, while the science can be shared for the benefit of the world, Buckley said.
Every year, UC Davis welcomes thousands of international students, researchers and visitors, an exchange that benefits both visitors and hosts. But that open door also allows governments intent on acquiring sensitive information opportunities to do so -- and those efforts are under way, Buckley said.
"Researchers are unaware of the malicious intent that is waiting around the corner," Buckley said.
Researchers might be "scooped" on a major discovery or lose out on a valuable patent. But national security could also be compromised, for example, if an adversary exploited specialized knowledge to attack the U.S. food supply.
"They don't want just published results, they want the detailed inside knowledge so that they can reverse-engineer our technology," Buckley said.
In one case that touched UC Davis, graduate student Charles Lee was arrested in December 2008 along with his uncle and charged with violating export control laws by purchasing sophisticated thermal imaging cameras and sending them to China. It was one of several cases in recent years in which people attempted to illegally export thermal imaging or night vision equipment to that country.
Last July, a professor at the University of Tennessee was sentenced to four years in prison for mishandling sensitive information from a research project funded by the Air Force. Despite warnings from university administrators, the professor allowed foreign graduate students access to restricted data from the study and took lab notebooks with him on overseas trips.