FBI Warns California Genetics Company Likely Shares Americans' Health Data With China

Chinese government uses health data to surveil and capture Uyghurs

A Wuhan, China, lab technician in Feb. 2020 / Getty Images
December 1, 2021

The FBI says a genetics testing company with tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts is most likely providing Americans' health data to China.

The agency told Los Angeles County officials last week it had obtained "very concerning information" about Fulgent Genetics, a California-based firm founded by Chinese-American billionaire Ming Hsieh. Los Angeles County sheriff Alex Villanueva said the FBI warned him and other county officials that Fulgent likely shares the health data it collects with the Chinese government.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns over state-sponsored harvesting of genetic data. China has collected DNA samples of Uyghurs, a repressed Muslim minority group, for surveillance purposes. The authoritarian regime is also building massive databases of genetic data from across the globe, which would give China an advantage in developing treatments for future pandemics.

Villanueva called for the county to cancel contracts with Fulgent to test county employees for COVID-19 and to keep track of their vaccination records. He did not say whether the FBI suspects Fulgent of proactively providing the data to China, or whether the company turns it over to comply with Chinese law.

A Fulgent spokesman said the company operates independently in China and "does not share personal data of any kind with the Chinese government." Another representative for the company said she is unaware of any outreach from the FBI to Fulgent. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Fulgent has likely collected genetic data on millions of Americans through contracts with hospitals as well as local, state, and federal agencies. The company was awarded a contract in 2016 by a hospital network that operates within the U.S. Army to provide genetic tests for personnel and their family members, according to the company's financial filings. The CDC awarded a $35.8 million contract to Fulgent in March to sequence coronavirus variants. Fulgent provides coronavirus testing for numerous school districts, including New York City and Las Vegas, and has contracts with the Utah Department of Health and the Houston Health Department.

Villanueva pointed to Fulgent's privacy policy as one cause for concern. According to the policy, Fulgent can transmit medical information collected in the United States to other countries, including those with less stringent data protection laws. China passed a national security law in 2017 requiring companies to grant access to data upon request from the government. The law has stoked international concern that Chinese authorities will misuse the data for espionage or surveillance.

The U.S. government put two subsidiaries of the Chinese gene harvesting giant BGI on an export blacklist last year because it has partnered with the Chinese military to collect genetic information on Uyghurs. Villanueva said Fulgent has worked with BGI and other Chinese companies linked to the state's surveillance apparatus, including Huawei.

Republican lawmakers expressed outrage that the federal government has awarded contracts to Fulgent.

"The Chinese Communist Party has tried to steal the intellectual property and personal health information of Americans for decades. Not a single taxpayer dollar should go to a company that puts Americans' health records at risk," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, commended Villanueva for drawing attention to the FBI's warning about Fulgent.

"Companies like Fulgent are required by Chinese law to turn their data over to the CCP and should not have access to Americans' sensitive health data," McCaul told the Washington Free Beacon.

Founded in 2011, Fulgent has expanded its business in China in recent years while forming ties to a politically connected American think tank considered soft on China, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Fulgent formed a joint venture called FF Gene in 2017 with Chinese companies Xilong Scientific and Fuzhou Jinqiang Investment. Fulgent said the partnership would help the company "solidify our foothold in one of the fastest growing genetic testing markets in the world."

Fulgent is also a donor to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a corporate-backed nonprofit that facilitates diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. Ming Hsieh, Fulgent's founder and CEO, serves on the committee's board of directors alongside executives from Disney, Apple, and other companies vying for access to China's market.

Hsieh was the guest of honor at the committee's annual gala earlier this month. The chairman of the committee, former Treasury secretary Jack Lew, introduced Hsieh, and Chinese ambassador Qin Gang shared remarks while former Transportation secretary Elaine Chao presented Hsieh with an award.

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations also maintains access to a Biden White House official, a spokesman for the organization previously told the Free Beacon. Kurt Campbell, the head of the Asia desk at the National Security Council, served on the committee's board until last year.

Chinese government officials have used events hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations to criticize U.S. government policy regarding China, often without pushback from the committee.

Lew hosted an event in February for Politburo member Yang Jiechi, who called on the United States to "stop meddling" in China's affairs by criticizing the regime for its human rights abuses in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.