He wanted the Nobel and he goes to jail

As an adult, as they say, Charles Lieber sought to achieve maximum glory. From the prestigious platform of Harvard, a university of which he was one of the most recognized chemistry professors, an award-winning researcher in the United States and a world authority on nanotechnology.

But he wanted more: prestige.

Lieber has not been accused of espionage, but of having lied, which is why the sector believes that the government is overreaching

After being arrested by the FBI in Boston in early January 2020, the 62-year-old professor acknowledged that Wuhan University had a lot of money. “It is one of the things that China uses to seduce people,” he confessed. But he was not craving a fortune in possessions. His dream was another.

“Every scientist wants to win the Nobel Prize,” he acknowledged to federal agents.

Now the matter has become very complicated. Instead of traveling to Stockholm to read a speech of appreciation, he will have to spend a period behind bars, which could be from six months to five years.

This is the consequence of the guilty verdict reached by the jury, after two hours and 45 minutes of deliberation, which considers that Lieber has lied and hidden his links with a recruitment program of the Beijing government to recruit talented scientists and take them to China . They also condemn him for not declaring to the Treasury (IRS) the income received from this activity.

In his case there are echoes of the Physics doctor Max stratman , played by Edward G. Robinson in the film The award (1963), directed by Mark Robson. It was the time of the cold war and the Soviets kidnapped Stratman and they supplanted him with a twin brother to access his wisdom and, incidentally, discredit the US Luckily there he was Andrew Craig (Paul Newman), a decadent writer who discovers the plot.

Today, if there is a cold war, it involves the Asian giant, feared for its tentacles to “kidnap” informants and highly sensitive information.

There are a number of circumstances that have made the Lieberman case different. It is not illegal to participate in Chinese research programs, but scientists are required to report this to the US government, which may also be contributing to the funding and may see this as a conflict of interest.

Lieber, described as a Chinese mole, was not charged with espionage or theft of intellectual property, but with deceiving when revealing his relationship with Wuhan. His trial in federal court in the capital of Massachusetts has been widely followed as it emerged as a key indictment for the Justice Department in its quest to combat Beijing’s efforts to undermine U.S. universities and catapult that country into front of scientific development.

Lieber’s guilt, in addition to his spectacular fall, is a victory for the call China Initiative , a program started during the Donald Trump administration to uncover and eradicate scientists who share vital information with the Asian rival. American justice suspected that Beijing was taking advantage of economic ties to engage in technological espionage.

Washington has accused 24 scientists in similar terms in these years. Of these, in nine there was an acceptance of guilt, in six the case was archived (five because those involved had been previously punished). And the first to stand trial, Anming Hu, ended up in acquittal.

In academic circles, where overreaching has been criticized, much attention has been paid to the oral hearing against Lieber as an indicator of whether the Justice Department can act against other scientists in the same way.

Marc Mukasey, Lieber’s defense attorney, argued that the prosecution lacked evidence on the charges against him. He maintained that those in charge of the investigations did not keep any record of the conversations with the professor before his arrest. He insisted that the accusers were unable to show that he “acted knowingly, intentionally, or made any materially false statement.” Other lawyers have indicated that if Lieber lied it was due to the fear that has been established among scientists of being persecuted. It would be a reissue of “Red Fear”, the wave of anti-communism that American society experienced at the beginning of the 20th century.

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He wanted the Nobel and he goes to jail