A former scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where U.S. nuclear weapons are designed was sentenced to probation and a fine for lying to an Energy Department counterspy operation about his recruitment by the Chinese government.
Turab Lookman, 68, of Santa Fe, New Mexico could have been imprisoned but instead was given five years’ probation and fined $75,000 for hiding his application to join China’s “Thousand Talents” program to recruit foreign scientists.
Mr. Lookman was indicted in May 2019 on three counts of lying about the recruitment effort.
He was charged with not revealing on a 2017 security questionnaire that he had been asked by a Chinese agent to join the talent recruitment program. A year later, he denied when asked by a Los Alamos counterintelligence official if he had been recruited by China for work with a university or other academic post. A third count involved lying to another federal investigator about the recruitment.
In January, Mr. Lookman pleaded guilty to one count of lying about his contacts with China. Two other charges were dropped. He could have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that Mr. Lookman, a senior scientist at Los Alamos, “lied over and over to conceal his relationship with the United States’ chief foreign adversary.”
Mr. Lookman was to be paid $75,000 by China as part of the technology collection program, and misled investigators and coworkers about his participation.
“Lookman not only lied, but he betrayed his country by collaborating with the Communist Party of China to undermine our nation’s national security,” the prosecutors said in a court filing.
Few details of the case were made public. Mr. Lookman was dismissed from Los Alamos shortly after his arrest in May 2019.
Court papers in the case show that a Chinese professor, Xue Dezhen, from Xian Jiaotong University, convinced Mr. Lookman to apply for a fellowship as part of the Thousand Talents program at a Chinese research center that would provide him with money and long-term visas.
Mr. Lookman’s attorneys stated in court filings their client held a “Q” clearance for access to nuclear secrets but his work was public. Mr. Lookman’s collaboration with China involved no classified information, they added.
In an objection to prosecutors’’ pre-sentencing memorandum, Mr. Lookman’s lawyers stated that the Thousand Talents program was not always viewed as a danger to U.S. security.
U.S. scientists “throughout 2017 and 2018, viewed the Thousand Talents program as an attempt to foster scientific advancement, collaboration and cooperation with the scientific community of China,” said the lawyers, Paul Linnenburger and Marc Lowry.
Mr. Lookman, through his lawyers, declined to comment Tuesday on the sentence. A Los Alamos spokesman and the office of the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico also did not respond to a request for comment.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a recent speech that China’s government through the Thousand Talents program “tries to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating our export controls and conflict-of-interest rules.”
Mr. Lookman worked at Los Alamos from 1999 and was honored as a laboratory fellow in 2017, one of the lab’s highest honors.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Mr. Lookman holds a British passport. After moving to Britain from India when he was 13, he earned a doctorate in theoretical physics at King’s College at the University of London. He worked for 20 years as a professor in Canada before joining Los Alamos, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.