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Ex-LANL scientist involved in Chinese recruitment scheme sentenced in federal court

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)
September 20, 2020

A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist has been sentenced to five years probation and has been fined $75,000 after pleading guilty to lying to investigators about his involvement with China’s Thousand Talents Program, a scheme described as a threat to U.S. national security.

Turab Lookman’s January plea agreement was accepted by a New Mexico federal court, records from last week show. The onetime lab fellow, a prestigious title, ultimately ducked prison time; the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, were of concern.

“Dr. Lookman is nearly 70 years old and has a family history of significant cardiac disease,” reads a June court filing, which echoed previous arguments. “He is thus in a high-risk pool for serious and potentially fatal complications associated with COVID-19.”

Lookman could have faced five years imprisonment and a much larger $250,000 fine.

The FBI arrested Lookman in May 2019. A grand jury indicted him on three counts of making false statements about his connection to foreign governments and the Thousand Talents Program, a furtive means by which China siphons information, knowledge and tech for its own purposes. Those involved are promised money or some other form of compensation.

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“Foreign trained scientists and experts provide China access to know-how, expertise and foreign technology — all necessary for China’s economic development and military modernization,” states a lengthy U.S. Senate subcommittee report. It notes the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees Los Alamos, “has been slow to address vulnerabilities surrounding the openness” of its labs and scientific collaborators.

By June 2018, Lookman had been recruited by, applied for and accepted into the Thousand Talents Program. When a Los Alamos counterintelligence officer inquired about his ties to Chinese recruitment or employment, Lookman lied.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is located near Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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© 2020 the Aiken Standard