Sunday, February 23, 2020

Harder I Look At Charles Lieber More Convinced I Become About Kompromat

bloomberg |  On Feb. 6, Charles Lieber was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, making the Harvard nanoscientist just the 30th person in history to achieve the hallowed hat trick at the apex of American science: membership in all three National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A week earlier, however, he was ushered into a different federal institution in downtown Boston, in handcuffs and an orange jailhouse jumpsuit. He left the federal courthouse after posting $1 million in bail.

Lieber’s arrest on Jan. 28 came in connection with his dealings in China. He hasn’t been charged with any type of economic espionage, intellectual-property theft, or export violations. Instead, he’s accused of lying to U.S. Department of Defense investigators about his work with the People’s Republic—an eye-popping escalation of the Trump administration’s pursuit of scientists and engineers for secretly collaborating with America’s economic rival.

Until now, the government crackdown on undisclosed China ties has ensnared relatively obscure researchers, nearly all of them immigrants from China, in red states such as Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas. But by targeting Lieber, the chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department and a veritable ivory tower blue blood, prosecutors struck at the crimson heart of the academic elite, raising fears that globalism, when it comes to doing science with China, is being criminalized. The collateral impact, if it deters Chinese students and researchers from coming to the U.S., threatens the American leadership in science and technology that the Trump administration says it’s trying to protect, academic leaders warn.

According to a government affidavit, signed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent named Robert Plumb, Lieber signed at least three agreements with Wuhan Technology University, or WUT, in central China. These included a contract with the state-sponsored Thousand Talents Plan—an effort by Beijing to attract mostly expatriate researchers and their know-how back home—worth a total of about $653,000 a year in pay and living expenses for three years, plus $1.74 million to support a new “Harvard-WUT Nano Key Lab” in Wuhan. The government offered no evidence that Lieber actually received those sums.

In April 2018, when Defense Department investigators asked Lieber about his ties to China, he responded that he was familiar with the Thousands Talents Plan but had never been asked to participate in the program, according to the FBI affidavit. “He also told DoD investigators that he ‘wasn’t sure’ how China categorized him,” the agent wrote.

Lieber also deceived Harvard about his China contracts, the affidavit said. Harvard placed Lieber on administrative leave upon his arrest and issued a statement calling the federal charges “extremely serious.” Lieber’s attorney, Peter Gelhaar, declined to comment.

Whatever extracurricular arrangements Lieber may have had in China, his Harvard lab was a paragon of U.S.-China collaboration. He relied on a pipeline of China’s brightest Ph.D. students and postdocs, often more than a dozen at a time, to produce prize-winning research on the revolutionary potential of so-called nanowires in biomedical implants. Dozens of Lieber’s 100 or so former lab members from China have chosen to stay in the U.S. Many now lead their own nanoscience labs at top universities, including Duke, Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA.