A researcher at the University of California with ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been arrested and charged after allegedly destroying evidence.
Chinese national Guan Lei, 29, of Alhambra, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in a federal prison after being charged with deliberately destroying a hard drive in order to obstruct an FBI investigation.
Guan, who was in the US on a J-1 non-immigrant visa, was suspected of transferring software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), and was also being investigated for apparently lying about his military ties on a 2018 visa application, and in interviews with officers.
He apparently later admitted to receiving military training and wearing military uniforms whilst at NUDT. That same university was placed on a US entity list after being “suspected of procuring US-origin items to develop supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications,” according to an affidavit.
It is also claimed that one of Guan’s faculty advisors at NUDT was also a lieutenant general in the PLA who developed computers used by the Chinese army and Air Force, as well as military weather forecasts and nuclear technology.
Guan is said to have been observed throwing a hard drive into a dumpster outside his apartment on July 25, shortly before attempting to board a flight to China.
According to the affidavit, the hard drive “was irreparably damaged and that all previous data associated with the hard drive appears to have been removed deliberately and by force.”
Guan refused a request by FBI officers to examine his laptop and was subsequently denied permission to board the plane.
The news comes amidst a US crackdown on Chinese students fuelled by suspicions that Beijing forces legitimate students to spy for their country and sneaks military operatives into the US as students to do the same.
In January, an indictment was issued for another former NUDT ‘student’, Yanqing Ye, who was subsequently found to be a PLA lieutenant, and Zaosong Zheng, who tried to smuggle biological research out of the US. Both were students in Boston.