Once again, a Chinese national has been arrested and detained in the United States for his alleged activities as a military scientist. Guan Lei first came under investigation in July by the FBI. He was under suspicion for visa fraud and possibly transferred “sensitive software or technical data” from UCLA.
Guan Lei studied machine-learning algorithms in UCLA’s mathematics department. According to one FBI agent’s affidavit, he transferred information to “high-ranking” officials in the Chinese military. He isn’t charged with that, though. He is accused of destroying evidence. FBI agents staked out his apartment, saw him pull a computer hard drive from his sock and throw it into a trash dumpster. He tossed the damaged hard drive just days after he was interviewed by investigators and tried to board a plane back to China. It sure sounds like he’s hiding something, right?
He appeared in court on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t clear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf. A spokesman for UCLA said the university fully cooperated with investigators. He came on the FBI’s radar on suspicion of visa fraud when he requested a transfer to Los Angeles from China.
Lei, originally a student at China’s National University of Defense Technology, reportedly told law enforcement officials under oath when applying for his transfer visa that he had never served in the military and denied any association with the People’s Liberation Army.
Investigators discovered, however, that there was more to the story. After being further questioned over his involvement with the Chinese military, Lei admitted that during his time at the National University of Defense Technology he not only dressed in Chinese military uniform, but also participated in some military training.
While Lei continued to maintain that this did not mean he served in the military, court documents say he also admitted that during his time at the Chinese university, his supervisors at the school were “high-ranking” officials in the Chinese military.
If he dresses like a soldier, and he is trained as a soldier, isn’t he a soldier? It sure sounds like he has an association with the People’s Liberation Army.
When he was interviewed by the FBI in July, he allowed agents to search his computer but refused to let them take it and perform a more thorough search on it. Two days later Lei was stopped and questioned at the Los Angeles International Airport. He was trying to catch a flight to China. Lei was questioned about his access to storage devices related to the investigation. They also wanted to know if he had any contact with anyone from the Chinese consulate while he was in the United States. Lei said no, he had no such contact. These statements by Lei were determined to be false by law enforcement officers and a criminal complaint was filed. It was unsealed Friday.
According to the complaint, Google records obtained by a law enforcement search warrant showed that Lei reached out to the Chinese consulate numerous times during the summer, correspondence that seemed to largely center on flight options back to China. Documents show that Lei’s girlfriend, while living together, also took a ride via Lyft to the nearby consulate in July.
Lei also allegedly tried to destroy evidence, with officials claiming that several days after attempting to hop on a plane to China, Lei tossed a destroyed hard drive into a nearby dumpster outside of his apartment. Officials say that the hard drive was “irreparably damaged” and that the information on the drive appeared to have been forcefully and purposefully removed.
Lei has been charged with destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation and is being investigated for possibly sending sensitive United States software data to his previous Chinese university — the same school that, according to the complaint, has been suspected of “procuring U.S.-origin items to develop supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications.”
During his appearance in court Friday, a magistrate judge ordered him to be detained. An arraignment hearing has been set for Sept. 17.
If this story is sounding familiar, there is a reason for that. It is. There have been many stories developing over the course of this year that feature a Chinese national and spying or information transfers or just lying about connections to the Communist Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party is using American universities and institutions like the NIH and NASA to acquire intellectual property and research information. The FBI and DOJ have been busy with investigations and rounding up the bad guys.
All these stories may be just the tip of the iceberg.