Two days after prosecutors unsealed the case against a Chinese researcher they charge tried to sneak 21 vials of biological samples from Beth Israel out of the country, Brigham and Women's Hospital is warning all of its doctors and researchers not to make the same mistake.
Three foreign researchers at Partners hospitals - which include Brigham and Women's and Mass. General - were caught at Logan last month "when they attempted to export or import materials hidden in their luggage without declaring them," Dr. Paul Anderson, the hospital's chief academic officer, said in a memo today to the hospital's "principal Investigators, researchers and research administrators."
Their visas were cancelled, and they were returned to their home countries. While we are working to have their visas reinstated, there is no guarantee we will be successful. Their actions have resulted in a significant disruption of their scientific work at great personal cost.
At a recent meeting of Boston hospital research officials with FBI agents and other law enforcement officials, we learned the Partners situations were not isolated incidents. They are part of a nation-wide enforcement action to control biological materials entering the country that may present a threat to national security, health, and safety and to reduce the theft of intellectual property developed in the US, much of it with federal funds. There have been approximately 18 interceptions at Logan Airport resulting in confiscation and visa cancellation. Materials were hidden in vitamin bottles, slippers, and socks. The Boston Office of the US Attorney has initiated legal action against three of the individuals involved and has indicated it intends to pursue a tough enforcement agenda. Individuals transporting materials without appropriate authorization, permits, licenses, or customs declarations may be charged with smuggling, transport of hazardous materials on a commercial airline, or theft of intellectual property or trade secrets, among other offenses. These are serious charges that could result in jail time and fines.
Anderson wrote that researchers with legitimate reasons to ship biological materials overseas can do so by getting authorization from the hospital, writing any documentation needed by US federal agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, the CDC or the FDA - and by packing them appropriately for shipment via a "common carrier" equipped to handle them, such as FedEx.