A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor was arrested Thursday and charged with secretly working for China’s technology collection programs and failing to disclose the work to the Energy Department.
The Justice Department announced that Gang Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen from China, took payments from the Chinese government that were not disclosed as required under federal government contracts, according to a criminal complaint in the case.
Mr. Chen is director of MIT’s Pappalardo Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory and also the school’s Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center. Both nano-technology and solar power technologies have been identified by China’s government as targets of foreign collection.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta told reporters Mr. Chen was arrested at his house in Cambridge and conducted searches of the house and his office at MIT.
“It has become much too commonplace that the ruling Communist Party of China thinks it can conduct illegal activity, and bend people here in the United States to its will, in order to try and surpass our country as the world’s leading superpower,” Mr. Bonavolonta said.
The FBI is opening a new Chinese-linked probe every 10 hours and that nearly half the 5,000 active counterspy cases involve China, he said.
Mr. Chen also acted as a talent spotter for Chinese recruiters and recommended several students for participation in technology gathering for China, the Boston FBI chief stated.
Prosecutors charged that since 2012 Mr. Chen worked as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government engaged in activities “designed to promote the [People’s Republic of China’s] technological and scientific development by providing advice and expertise – sometimes directly to PRC government officials – and often in exchange for financial compensation.”
The government alleged that the work was coordinated with officials at the Chinese consulate in New York as part of China’s so-called “talent” programs that seek to pay foreign experts for technology and expertise.
“Since 2013, Chen allegedly received approximately $29 million of foreign funding, including $19 million from the PRC’s Southern University of Science and Technology,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Evidence disclosed by the government in the case includes an email Mr. Chen sent to himself in 2016 that stated he would “promote Chinese collaboration” and work to boost China’s scientific innovation.
“Our economy is No. 2, but from technology (structure of economy) and human resources, we are far from No. 2,” Mr. Chen wrote.
The professor was scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston on Thursday.
Mr. Chen, 56, was charged with wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report, and making a false statement in a tax return. The court papers stated that Mr. Chen worked from 2017 to 2019 for several Chinese institutions and applied and received an Energy Department grant to fund his MIT work.
As part of the funding, Mr. Chen was required to disclose his work for China but prosecutors say he failed to do so. He also is charged with failing disclosed payments from China on his tax return. An additional charge includes wire fraud.
The arrest of Mr. Chen is one of a series of prosecutions by the Justice Department’s China Initiative that has netted scores of Chinese agents and American academics involved in covert work for Beijing.
In a separate case Wednesday, a senior NASA scientist pleaded guilty to charges of lying about ties to China technology-gathering programs. Meyya Meyyappan, 66, of Pacifica, California, made the plea in federal court in Manhattan. According to the Justice Department, Mr. Meyyappan took part in China’s Thousand Talents Program that sought to recruit foreign experts. He also held positions at universities in China, South Korea and Japan.
The work was not disclosed to NASA as required by the space agency, and prosecutors charged him with lying about the covert work for China during an interview with investigators Oct. 27.
According to the Justice Department, Mr. Meyyappan was the chief scientist for exploration at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
China has been targeting U.S. space technology for decades, according to U.S. officials.