Knowledge security is first and foremost about preventing the undesirable transfer of sensitive knowledge and technology. Transfer is undesirable if it compromises our country’s national security. Knowledge security also entails the covert influencing of education and research by other states. Such interference places academic freedom and social safety in jeopardy. Finally, knowledge security involves ethical issues that can be at play in collaboration with countries that do not respect fundamental rights.
The protection of national security is one of the core duties of the government. For this reason, the Dutch central government plays an active role in knowledge security by providing knowledge institutions with information and scope for action, in addition to setting frameworks as needed.
From 2022, knowledge institutions will be able to contact the central government’s National Contact Point for Knowledge Security. Here you will receive information and advice on questions regarding international cooperation in relation to knowledge security. If you still have questions after reading this introduction, contact us.
The accurate identification of sensitive domains of knowledge within your institution is important. Examples include dual-use technologies and knowledge that can be used for unethical purposes. It is also important to chart your ‘crown jewels’: the domains within which your institution is an international leader and that therefore pose risks associated with knowledge transfer. A brief risk analysis should be conducted for each sensitive domain of knowledge.
Public threat information, including the State Actors Threat Assessment (Dreigingsbeeld Statelijke Actoren) published by the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) (available only in Dutch), can be used to estimate a country’s risk profile. International rankings can also be consulted. For example, a poor score in rankings for academic freedom and respect for the rule of law should raise red flags. A poor score does not necessarily rule out the possibility of collaborating with institutions in the country in question, but it is important to take proper precautionary measures.
Thereafter, as part of due diligence, it is important to examine the background of the foreign partner or client. This involves paying close attention to signals, like a lack of information on the internet or the fact that the institution is not known to anyone. Consider what the motives of clients or research funders might be and what interest they might have in specific outcomes.
It is important to be aware of the possibility of being gradually brought into a situation of financial (or other forms of) dependence. In case of security risks, it is important to involve your security coordinator and ensure that decisions concerning engagement with a high-risk partner are always submitted to your organisation’s board.
What types of threats are involved in knowledge security? What are the motives and working methods of countries and states? How can core academic values come under threat? For further information and background please see the National Knowledge Security Guidelines.
State actors use a variety of methods to acquire knowledge and technology that they can use for military purposes or for objectives that are not consistent with our fundamental values. Examples include centrally controlled talent programmes, applying pressure to compatriots (or former compatriots) who have emigrated, digital espionage and the recruitment of individuals in strategic positions.
Inter-institutional partnerships are also used as tools. In such cases, the academic partner acts as an extension of the government. This assigns a double agenda to what is ostensibly an academic partnership.
Countries and states may also undertake activities aimed at influence and interference. For example, they may attempt to influence opinions (about the country) or to impede research on objectionable topics. These countries attempt to maintain control over their compatriots. The knowledge that they are being watched from their countries of origin causes anxiety for the researchers and students involved. Such anxiety can lead to self-censorship and the impairment of core academic values.