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Ex-LANL scientist charged with lying about China program

May 25, 2019

A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist is being held on federal charges that he lied about his contacts and involvement with a Chinese government program, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque said Friday.

Turab Lookman, 67, of Santa Fe made an initial appearance in federal court Friday on charges that he didn’t tell the truth regarding a program “established by the Chinese government to recruit people with access to and knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a news release.

The FBI arrested Lookman on Thursday after a grand jury indicted him on three counts of making false official statements about being recruited by and applying to participate in China’s Thousand Talents Program for personal compensation, the statement said.

According to the Los Alamos lab’s online information, Lookman joined LANL in 1999 after earning a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Kings College, University of London. He was named a laboratory fellow in 2017, one of the laboratory’s highest scientific honors.

The indictment alleges Lookman, who is in custody pending a detention hearing Tuesday, made the false statements on an employment questionnaire, in a debriefing with a Los Alamos National Laboratory counterintelligence officer and to an investigator from the National Background Investigation Bureau/Office of Personnel Management.

Lookman faces up to five years in prison if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which said the FBI investigated the case with support from the laboratory.

In a statement issued Friday, a lab spokesman said: “Los Alamos National Laboratory has been in close contact with law enforcement agencies on this issue. … Protecting our technology and intellectual property is of utmost importance to the Laboratory, our employees, customers, and the nation. We have taken this matter very seriously from the moment it was identified through our security protocols.”

A spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy, provided a statement that said, “The Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration consider protecting technology and intellectual property at our laboratories, plants, and sites a top priority. The recent law enforcement matter at Los Alamos National Laboratory is now under the Department of Justice’s jurisdiction.”

In a September 2017 news release announcing Lookman as a laboratory fellow, the lab said he worked in the Theoretical Division and described him as an expert in the computational physics of materials, complex fluids and nonlinear dynamics.

“Lookman’s work in this field has received enormous worldwide attention,” the release said. “He is co-author of two books and more than 250 publications.”

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