The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted Harvard professor and former Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Chairman Dr. Charles Lieber, 61, for making false statements to federal investigators. The investigators are looking at Lieber’s work with China’s Thousand Talents program, according to the DOJ’s press release:
It is alleged that, unbeknownst to Harvard University, beginning in 2011, Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China. He later became [a] contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015. China’s Thousand Talents Plan is one of the most prominent Chinese talent recruitment plans designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity and national security. According to court documents, these talent recruitment plans seek to lure Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to bring their knowledge and experience to China, and they often reward individuals for stealing proprietary information. Under the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents contract, WUT allegedly paid Lieber a salary of up to $50,000 USD per month, living expenses of up to 1 million Chinese Yuan (approximately $158,000 USD at the time) and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT. In return, Lieber was obligated to work for WUT “not less than nine months a year” by “declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference[s], applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of [WUT].”
The Harvard Crimson reports that Dr. Lieber is fighting the charges.
“Professor Lieber has dedicated his life to science and to his students,” (his defense attorney, Mark) Mukasey wrote. “Not money, not fame, just his science and his students. He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator.”
According to the DOJ, China paid him a $600,000 annual salary, on top of his Harvard salary and his private nanotech business ventures.
Dr. Leiber is at least the second cutting-edge university researcher in the United States indicted over ties to the Thousand Talents Program in the past month. In May, University of Arkansas professor Simon Saw-Teong Ang was indicted for wire fraud, and for not disclosing alleged ties to Thousand Talents. Ang is a decorated professor of engineering, holding four patents.
A February 2020 National Association of Scholars story on Dr. Leiber and the Thousand Talents Program reports that TTP started out with a goal of recruiting 2,000 top scientists worldwide in 2008, but it has successfully recruited about 7,000. But no one knows who they are until they come under investigation.
TTP is one of hundreds of Chinese programs designed to steal American secrets and corrupt American institutions. China’s Confucius Institutes (CIs) work in parallel to TTP under the guise of language-and culture-instruction at American universities. CIs really function as centers of Chinese propaganda and espionage in American higher education.
As dangerous as Confucius Institutes are, the Thousand Talents Program poses a greater threat to American national security. At least American universities know where CIs are stationed and can shut them down at will. Indeed, nearly 30 Confucius Institutes have either closed or announced their closing since 2017. In contrast, TTP operates in secrecy. Who are the 7,000 researchers who signed Thousand Talents contracts? We don’t know—and we shouldn’t have to wait until a TTP member gets caught by law enforcement to find out.
Indeed. According to a 2019 Senate report, China spends as much as a staggering 15% of its GDP on its Thousand Talents Program.
If convicted, Leiber could face up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. Academia may further sanction him.