According to it’s website, The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is focused on diplomacy. The Penn Biden center ‘engages more of our fellow citizens in shaping this world,” while working to ensure the gains inherent in global engagement are “widely shared.”
However, following the discovery of classified records from the Obama administration held in President Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center, some are reviewing funding the university has received as well as the role it played in the closing of an FBI counter-espionage program, commonly called the China Initiative, by Attorney General Merrick Garland in February of 2022.
More than 160 University of Pennsylvania faculty signed an open letter, citing the potential for profiling as well as a hostile environment that could harm future science and research collaboration between the United States and China as reasons to terminate the program.
While Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard had also protested the program, Garland ended the program within two weeks of the letter being posted.
The Department of Justice maintains a website dedicated to the counter-espionage initiative, which states that about “80 percent of all economic espionage prosecutions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) allege conduct that would benefit the Chinese state, and there is at least some nexus to China in around 60 percent of all trade secret theft cases.”
The website lists the details on over 50 example cases held between December of 2018 to November of 2021.
Garland’s decision to shutter the program shocked many, particularly as Christopher Wray, FBI Director, had given a speech in January of 2022 in which he detailed security concerns with China that the United States has encountered in the course of partnership.
“Just using cyber means,” Wray said, “Chinese government hackers have stolen more of our personal and corporate data than every other nation combined.”
While UPenn stated that it did not solicit donations specifically earmarked for the Penn Biden Center, the center was funded from it’s operating budget and Biden was employed as an honorary professor tasked with appearances and lectures.
Biden’s tax returns revealed that UPenn paid a total of $911,644 for these services from spring of 2017 to spring of 2019.
The Washington Free Beacon reported in 2021 that UPenn collected over $67.6 million in donations and contracts from China between 2013 and 2019, with $47.7 million of that sum received during Biden’s years of employment at the university.
Tom Anderson, director of the Public Integrity Project at NLPC, stated that the funding “has potentially opened the door to national security issues related to the University providing undocumented access to what was then future high-level officials within the Biden administration and State Department.”
Stephen MacCarthy, a spokesperson for the University of Pennsylvania, firmly denied any correlation between the Penn Biden Center and the donations. “One hundred percent of the budget for the Penn Biden Center comes from university funds,” MacCarthy stated,”[The Penn Biden Center] “has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity. In fact, the University has never solicited any gifts for the Center.”