The USA has added another 37 organizations – 34 of them from China – to its list of businesses with which US interests can't interact without a license, with 12 of them earning their places for developing "mind control weapons."
As usual, the newly listed organisations earned their place on the grounds their activities represent a threat to national security. Less usually, this batch sees plenty barred for bodgy biotech.
Among the named organisations [PDF] is China's Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS), plus 11 of its research institutes, "based on the body of information that AMMS and its eleven research institutes use biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry."
"This activity is contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests," said the department's final rule.
The nature of the mental menaces is not known.
A senior official told The Financial Times that China was using emerging biotechnologies to try to develop future military applications – including "gene editing, human performance enhancement [and] brain machine interfaces".
A year ago, the (now former) US Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal claiming that China had conducted "human testing" on members of the People's Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with "biologically enhanced capabilities" – in other words, genetically engineered super soldiers.
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Of course, Trump appointee Ratcliffe was routinely criticised for being underqualified and politicizing the position he held, and was also a known conspiracy theorist.
However, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been working to advance military-research projects in the area of brain science, and hasn't always been shy about it.
In 2018, PLA neuroscientists published a review detailing ways neuroscience could influence future warfare – for example by using brain-machine interface technology to enhance a soldier's capabilities, as well as through sound, light, electricity or even transcranial magnetic stimulation, or of course drugs. The paper also discusses interfering negatively with the heads of enemy targets.
US secretary of commerce Gina M. Raimondo weighed in on the entity list additions in a canned statement:
The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives. Unfortunately, the PRC is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups. We cannot allow US commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to US national security.
Raimondo then namechecked both PRC and Iran as countries the US stands strongly against as they "turn tools that can help humanity prosper into implements that threaten global security and stability".
The US Commerce Department said its Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is also taking action against entities diverting or attempting to divert US items to Iran's military programs.
Steven Okun, Senior Advisor at international strategic advisory firm McLarty Associates, told The Register: "These actions further highlight the US government's evolving view that doing business in China increasingly can conflict with US national security and foreign policy interests, and business leaders need to plan for further prohibitions on US corporate engagement and investment in China and Chinese entities, especially when it comes to technology."
The entity list additions landed on the same day the USA barred local investors from sinking their cash into Chinese drone-maker DJI, claiming the company is part of the "Chinese military-industrial complex" and an active participant in the suppression of China's minority Uyghur population. ®