An acclaimed Harvard University scientist has been arrested and criminally charged for making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the U.S. Defense Department about his ties to a Chinese government program created to recruit foreign scientists and researchers.
According to NPR, Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, is charged with lying to the Justice Department about his connections with the Chinese Thousand Talents Plan, a program that has been flagged as a serious intelligence concern. Lieber is also accused of lying about a lucrative contract he had with China’s Wuhan University of Technology (WUT). FBI Special Agent Robert Plumb said the nanoscientist had set up a research lab at the Wuhan university without Harvard University’s knowledge.
Harvard University responded to the charges again Lieber in a statement to NPR: “The charges brought by the U.S. government against Professor Lieber are extremely serious. Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is initiating its own review of the alleged misconduct. Professor Lieber has been placed on indefinite administrative leave.”
Lieber had ties with the Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 to 2017, in which the scientist was paid $50,000 a month and $150,000 a year for “living and personal expenses,” reported NPR. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that China’s program could put American scientific interests at risk.
“The worry is that China might be eroding America’s technology advantage — not just by support for research, but also by theft of scientific ideas and corporate espionage,” reported NPR’s Joe Palca in 2018.
In addition, without Harvard University’s knowledge, Lieber established a research lab and conducted research at WUT, and was awarded more than $1.5 million by the Chinese government for doing so. Email correspondence revealed that the scientist had signed a three-year employment contract with WUT in 2012, reported NPR.
From 2012 to 2017, Lieber was the principal investigator on six U.S. Defense Department research grants valued at more than $8 million, as well as the principal investigator on $10 million in grants funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“These grants require the disclosure of significant foreign financial conflicts of interest, including financial support from foreign governments or foreign entities,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said in a statement announcing the charges against Lieber.
Lieber’s work involved producing nanoscale materials, researching nanoelectronic sensors, and integrating nanoelectronic devices into synthetic tissue or “cyborg tissue”, effectively melding biology and medicine.