Risky Business: Norwegian University Infiltrated By Iranian Agents Acting Under Guise Of Academic Collaboration

(New York, N.Y.) — Last month, prosecutors in Norway filed charges against a Norwegian University of Science and Technology professor believed to have invited researchers from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the university and giving them access to a laboratory and information that authorities believe may be useful to Iran’s nuclear program. The German-Iranian professor has not been publicly identified. He has been charged with violating sanctions against Iran as well as Norway’s export control regulations and data protection laws, and faces 10 years in prison.

Iranian officials have sought for years to advance its nuclear and missile development programs under the guise of academic collaboration. In Norway, officials say the Iranian researchers installed a program on university devices that would allow users to retrieve potentially valuable data without authorization. 

Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, the EU and the United States have all recognized that several of Iran’s universities contribute to the body of knowledge essential to Iran’s nuclear and missile development program. This has not stopped academic institutions, however, from collaborating with Iranian researchers and exposing themselves to the likelihood of having data stolen just as Iranians are suspected of doing in Norway. 

“The Iranian regime is unafraid to use any and all means to advance its malign behaviors including brazenly stealing intellectual property from global businesses, scientific data from multilateral institutions, and academic research from universities foolish enough to open their doors to colleagues living under ayatollahs,” said United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Research Director Daniel Roth. “While China grabs global headlines for its intellectual property theft, the Iranian regime is actually a far more dangerous criminal enterprise because its theft enhances Iranian military capabilities. It’s past time for countries to limit academic exchanges with Iran to undergraduate level and non-scientific disciplines, if any, and for academic institutions to reassess their exposure to a Norwegian-style security breach.” 

In recent weeks, UANI has reminded the leaders of higher education institutions in Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy Senegal, South Korea, Spain, and Switzerland – each of which have reportedly entered into agreements to collaborate with Iran’s Isfahan University of Technology, home to “Iran’s largest nuclear research complex.” By cooperating or collaborating with representatives from Iran, these institutions are assuming substantial risk to their reputations, exposing academics and students to surveillance, and jeopardizing collaborative research opportunities with institutions in the West that abide by higher standards for permitting such agreements.