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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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