Federal law enforcement officials arrested a top Harvard scientist on Tuesday for allegedly lying to the U.S. government about his involvement in a massive Chinese program that authorities say is responsible for stealing proprietary information from U.S. institutions.
Authorities arrested Dr. Charles Lieber, 60, chair of the department of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, on charges of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement.
The New York Times reported that Lieber “was named a University Professor, Harvard’s highest faculty rank, one of only 26 professors to hold that status,” and that “he earned the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award for inventing syringe-injectable mesh electronics that can integrate with the brain” in 2017.
“According to court documents, since 2008, Dr. Lieber who has served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, which specialized in the area of nanoscience, has received more than $15,000,000 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DOD),” The Department of Justice said in a statement. “These grants require the disclosure of significant foreign financial conflicts of interest, including financial support from foreign governments or foreign entities.”
“Unbeknownst to Harvard University beginning in 2011, Lieber became a ‘Strategic Scientist’ at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and was a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from in or about 2012 to 2017,” the statement said. “China’s Thousand Talents Plan is one of the most prominent Chinese Talent recruit plans that are designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity and national security. These talent programs seek to lure Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to bring their knowledge and experience to China and reward individuals for stealing proprietary information.”
Prosecutors say that Lieber was paid $50,000 per month and given $150,000 a year for living expenses by China’s communist government. He was also given $1.5 million to build a laboratory in Wuhan.
“The complaint alleges that in 2018 and 2019, Lieber lied about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan and affiliation with WUT,” the statement concluded. “On or about, April 24, 2018, during an interview with investigators, Lieber stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, but he ‘wasn’t sure’ how China categorized him. In November 2018, NIH inquired of Harvard whether Lieber had failed to disclose his then-suspected relationship with WUT and China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Lieber caused Harvard to falsely tell NIH that Lieber ‘had no formal association with WUT’ after 2012, that ‘WUT continued to falsely exaggerate’ his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that Lieber ‘is not and has never been a participant in’ China’s Thousand Talents Plan.”
Federal law enforcement officials have urged American institutions “to develop protocols for monitoring students and visiting scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions, as U.S. suspicion toward China spreads to academia,” NPR reported last year. “Since last year, FBI officials have visited at least 10 members of the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 research universities, with an unclassified list of Chinese research institutions and companies.”