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Chinese Researcher Arrested for Destroying Evidence of Data Transfer to China

A Chinese national was arrested in the United States for destroying evidence of possible transfer of sensitive data to China. 

The man, Guan Lei, 29, was a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was staying in the U.S. on a J-1 non-immigrant visa. 

According to a criminal complaint, on July 25, the researcher was observed throwing a damaged hard drive into a trash dumpster near his residence. 

Guan, who refused to allow the FBI to examine his computer, was not allowed to board a flight to China. The FBI was able to recover the damaged hard drive, but said in an affidavit that the damage to it was irreparable and that all data on it appeared “to have been removed deliberately and by force.”

The complaint also reveals that Guan was being investigated for the possible transfer of “sensitive U.S. software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT).”

Guan is also said to have denied being associated with the Chinese military – the People’s Liberation Army – when applying for a visa in 2018, as well as in interviews with federal law enforcement. 

Furthermore, the complaint reveals that the researcher admitted taking part in military training, wearing military uniforms at NUDT, and having a faculty advisor in China who “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.”

The affidavit supporting the complaint also notes that NUDT is believed to be procuring items of U.S. origin for the building of “supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications.” The U.S. Department of Commerce placed the university on its Entity List for nuclear nonproliferation reasons. 

According to the complaint, not only did Guan destroy the hard drive, but also hid digital storage devices from investigators and lied about having contact with the Chinese consulate during his stay in the U.S.

Guan was ordered detained. An arraignment was scheduled for Sept. 17, 2020. Guan is accused of destruction of evidence, an offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. 

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