Dr. Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was arrested by the FBI in January 2020, and criminally charged with making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the U.S. Defense Department about his ties to a Chinese government program to recruit foreign scientists and researchers.
According to an article published on January 28, 2020, by NPR, the U.S. Justice Department says Lieber, 60, lied about his contact with a program known as the Thousand Talents Plan, which the U.S. has previously flagged as an intelligence concern. He also is accused of lying about a lucrative contract he signed with China’s Wuhan University of Technology. In an affidavit, FBI Special Agent Robert Plumb said Lieber, who led a Harvard research group focusing on nanoscience, had established a research lab at the Wuhan university — apparently unbeknownst to Harvard.
In response to the charges against Lieber, Harvard said in a statement to NPR: “The charges brought by the U.S. government against Professor Lieber are extremely serious. Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is initiating its own review of the alleged misconduct. Professor Lieber has been placed on indefinite administrative leave.”
The New York Times also reported the incident and discussed the issue with Dr. Ross McKinney Jr., Chief Scientific Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “This is a very, very highly esteemed, highly regarded investigator working at Harvard, a major U.S. institution, at the highest rank he could have, so, all the success you can have in this sphere,” said Dr. McKinney Jr. “It’s like, when you’ve got it all, why do you want more?”
Dr. McKinney also mentioned anxiety among his colleagues that scientists will be scrutinized over legitimate sources of international funding.