A Chinese researcher at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was arrested Friday in a court hearing amid investigation in his ties to China, including possible leaking of sensitive software to the communist country. Earlier this year Guan Lei threw a damaged hard drive into a dumpster near his apartment, and attempted to flee the U.S.
Guan conducted research at UCLA since 2018, working with a professor to develop “an optimization algorithm” and apply it to machine learning, the affidavit said.
Two days after being interviewed by the FBI, Guan attempted to board a flight from LAX to China, but was barred by Customs agents from the leaving the country. Six days later, FBI agents staking out his apartment saw Guan pull a computer hard drive from his sock and throw it into a trash can, wrote Agent Timothy D. Hurt.
The court affidavit states that when the FBI found the hard drive it “was irreparably damaged and that all previous data associated with the hard drive appears to have been removed deliberately and by force.”
A statement given by the the Department of Justice reveals that Lei was initially being investigated “for possibly transferring sensitive U.S. software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) and falsely denying his association with the Chinese military – the People’s Liberation Army – in connection with his 2018 visa application and in interviews with federal law enforcement.”
“Guan later admitted that he had participated in military training and wore military uniforms while at NUDT,” the statement continued. “One of Guan’s NUDT faculty advisors in China was also a lieutenant general in the PLA who developed computers used by the PLA General Staff Department, the PLA General Armament Department, Air Force, military weather forecasts, and nuclear technology.”
Guan is not the first university employee to be arrested after investigation into China ties. Just four days ago a Texas A&M professor was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and making false statements for allegedly collaborating with the Chinese government during research for NASA.