Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemist, has been arrested for working with the Chinese. My first thought was that this is terrible, science is an international enterprise, we value cooperation and the sharing of information, and working with the Chinese people and other international students is exactly what a respected scientist at a university ought to be doing. I have students from China in my classes, I think it’s great that they are here and learning.
I think that’s going to be part of the defense strategy. It’s government paranoia, part of a campaign of hostility against China.
Peter Zeidenberg, a lawyer who has represented Chinese Americans accused of espionage, said in an email that the Justice Department “has launched an all-out war on any U.S. scientist associated with the 1000 Talent or other Chinese Talent programs.”
He said that is a major shift in U.S. practice after years of lax scrutiny of the issue.
“The government is now expecting perfect compliance for scientists who received no training on how these forms needed to be filled out and no warnings about the dangers of submitting an inaccurate form,” Zeidenberg said. “Treating these mistakes as felonies is entirely inappropriate.”
Except, well, ‘not knowing how to fill out a form’ is a bad tactic when you’re defending one of the most successful scientists in the world, at one of the richest universities in the world. He can probably figure it out, and if not, there is certainly a team of well-paid administrators at Harvard who could figure it out for him.
Then I read the actual charges. He had a contract with the Wuhan University of Technology.
I about choked. He was personally paid $50K per month, handed $150K per year for personal expenses, and awarded a $1.5 million grant? All that was on top of his Harvard salary, which wasn’t stated, but is probably a healthy sum. Man, I’m wondering how I can get on the Chinese spy payroll all of a sudden, because those numbers are not what you get paid for academic work. Just the fact that he’s being given $750K per year as his own cash to swim around in in his vault is abnormal and suspicious, and then we learn that it was all under the table, and he didn’t tell anyone about his secret contract.
The Justice Department says Lieber, 60, lied about his contact with the Chinese program known as the Thousand Talents Plan, which the U.S. has previously flagged as a serious intelligence concern. He also is accused of lying about about a lucrative contract he signed with China’s Wuhan University of Technology.
In an affidavit unsealed Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Robert Plumb said Lieber, who led a Harvard research group focusing on nanoscience, had established a research lab at the Wuhan university — apparently unbeknownst to Harvard.
Universities care about this stuff. Every year I get a little form sent around that I have to fill out, which is basically asking if I’m moonlighting at anything, am I getting paid on the side. They are paying me a salary for full-time work 9 months out of the year; it’s OK if I’m bringing in summer salary, for instance, but they want to know about it, because they want to know that I regard them as my primary employer. If I were to mention that the Chinese government was paying me 10 times what the Minnesota state government was coughing up, they might suspect a conflict of interest.
Lieber lied about his affiliations. Further, and quite amusingly, when WUT started touting their connections to Harvard, Lieber was frantically contacting them to shush, that he was working with them, but Harvard was not, so ix-nay on the Arvard-hay talk, or they’ll catch on.
This ain’t about international cooperation and scientific values, it’s about a greedy American being bought by the Chinese government and lying about it. Throw the book at him.
Maybe the legal strategy of claiming that he was too stupid to fill out a form properly is his best bet after all.