Loading...

Harvard Scientist Faces Trial for Alleged Spying for China

December 13, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Harvard Scientist Faces Trial for Alleged Spying for China
The John Harvard statue is pictured in the yard outside of University Hall. (Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer)

WASHINGTON — A well-known Harvard University nanotechnology professor is scheduled for trial Tuesday in Boston, Massachusetts, in a case that also tests the Justice Department’s initiative to crack down on spying for China. 

Charles Lieber claims he was merely collaborating as a scholar with scientists at Wuhan University of Technology when he was arrested two years ago.

The Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health say Lieber lied about how much American technology he was divulging to the Chinese while raking in millions of dollars.

The Justice Department’s China Initiative is supposed to put a dent in the amount of U.S. intellectual property stolen by the Chinese. Lieber’s supporters say an unintended consequence is an attack on academic research.

Lieber is one of more than two dozen academics who the Justice Department has prosecuted for economic espionage, including a different nanotechnology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Typically, they are invited to participate by the Chinese government in its Thousand Talents Program. China describes the program as an effort to recognize and attract leading international experts in scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

It grants visiting professors the title of “Thousand Talents Plan Distinguished Professor” and offers benefits such as high pay and visa privileges. They also are eligible for large government grants.

In Lieber’s case, the Justice Department says his combined U.S. and Chinese compensation was around $15 million. Nanotechnology refers to the use of molecular matter on a microscopic level for industrial and, increasingly, military purposes. 

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have warned that China uses the Thousand Talents scientists to gain access to new technology for economic and military advantage.

Lieber, the former chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department, is charged with making false statements to U.S. government officials and four tax-related felonies for allegedly failing to report income.

The first China Initiative prosecution to reach trial was against University of Tennessee nanomanufacturing professor Anming Hu. The trial ended last summer when the judge dismissed the charges, saying no rational jury could convict Hu on the Justice Department’s evidence.

The China Initiative was started in 2018 under what the Trump administration called a program to reduce “trade secret theft, hacking and economic espionage.” 

Since then, academics from Yale University, Stanford University and elsewhere have signed petitions they submitted to the Justice Department asking for an end to the China Initiative. They said it inhibits the exchange of academic expertise internationally.

The dismissal of charges against Hu, along with the political pressure from the academic community, are expected to turn Lieber’s trial into a referendum on the China Initiative as much as a determination of his guilt or innocence, according to legal experts.

The case is U.S. v. Lieber in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

In The News

Health

Voting

Justice

May 6, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Justice Dept. Opens New Office to Crack Down on Polluters

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Thursday it was opening a new Office of Environmental Justice to crack down on... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Thursday it was opening a new Office of Environmental Justice to crack down on industrial polluters. Top priorities of the new program are reducing climate change and protecting low-income or disadvantaged communities, according to the Justice Department announcement. “For far... Read More

NYPD Veteran Convicted of Assaulting Officer in Capitol Riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury on Monday convicted a New York Police Department veteran of assaulting an officer during the... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury on Monday convicted a New York Police Department veteran of assaulting an officer during the U.S. Capitol riot, rejecting his claim that he was defending himself when he tackled the officer and grabbed his gas mask. Thomas Webster, a 20-year NYPD... Read More

April 29, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Justice Dept. Sues Trump Campaign Manager Saying He Hid $16M in Taxable Income

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Justice Department is suing Paul Manafort, the former presidential campaign manager of Donald Trump,... Read More

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Justice Department is suing Paul Manafort, the former presidential campaign manager of Donald Trump, after he allegedly hid taxable income he was paid as a consultant for business and political interests in Ukraine. Prosecutors are seeking $2.9 million of the... Read More

State Report Details Bias in Minneapolis Police Department

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An extensive state investigation launched after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 found that the... Read More

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An extensive state investigation launched after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 found that the Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern of race discrimination for at least the past decade. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights said Wednesday it... Read More

Biden Pardons Former Secret Service Agent and Two Others

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people who were convicted on... Read More

April 20, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Justice Dept. Sues Towing Company for Auctioning Service Members’ Cars

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Justice Department is suing a Virginia towing company it accuses of towing and auctioning the... Read More

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Justice Department is suing a Virginia towing company it accuses of towing and auctioning the vehicles of military service members while they were deployed on active duty. The lawsuit says Steve’s Towing Inc. of Virginia Beach violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief... Read More

News From The Well