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Professor Gets 4 Years in Prison for Sharing Drone Plans With Students 354

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the read-before-you-sign dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Retired University of Tennessee Professor Dr. John Reece Roth has been sentenced to four years in prison after he allowed a Chinese graduate student to see sensitive information on Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. In 2004, the company Roth helped found, Atmospheric Glow Technologies, won a US Air Force contract to develop a plasma actuator that could help reduce drag on the wings of drones, such as the ones the military uses. Under the contract, for which Roth was reportedly paid $6,000, he was prohibited from sharing sensitive data with foreign nationals. Despite warnings from his university's Export Control Officer, in 2006, Roth took a laptop containing sensitive plans with him on a lecture tour in China and also allowed graduate students Xin Dai of China and Sirous Nourgostar of Iran to work on the project. 'The illegal export of restricted military data represents a serious threat to national security,' says David Kris of the US Department of Justice. 'We know that foreign governments are actively seeking this information for their own military development. Today's sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who knowingly discloses restricted military data in violation of our laws.' During his trial, Roth testified that he was unaware that hiring the graduate students was a violation of his contract. 'This whole thing has not helped me, it has not helped the university,' said Roth. 'And it has probably not helped this country, either.'"
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Professor Gets 4 Years in Prison for Sharing Drone Plans With Students

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 03, 2009 @05:08PM (#28575127)

    the contract was awarded to the company the professor founded, not the professor himself or the university. the fact that this guy teaches is just a coincidence as far as the law is concerned -- he was working on a gov't contract for a company that was fully briefed on the situation and he violated the terms. this has nothing to do with education, really.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 03, 2009 @05:21PM (#28575227)

    A big problem/bug/feature of American academic engineering research groups is that the graduate students and post-docs are predominantly foreign, typically from China and India. American citizens with advanced engineering degrees are a dying breed - Americans don't (in general) aspire to get PhDs in engineering.

    So if you are soliciting proposals to American universities for defense-related research, be warned that whomever is doing the research (even if they themselves are citizens and cleared) are likely doing that research in a room full of foreign nationals.

  • by bkpark (1253468) on Friday July 03, 2009 @05:26PM (#28575269) Homepage

    at the expense of discrimination against an arbitrary list of students - Students who paid the same tuition as every other student, yet cannot experience the same intellectual freedoms as their peers all because some magic list-of-the-week says their Fearless Leader (whom in many cases they came to the US because they don't like the policies or education climate back home) pissed in our Cheerios.

    'Hate to pull you down from your clouds, but you are way off. First of all, none of these graduate students, at least in physical sciences, actually "pay tuition". Usually in one way (working as teaching assistant or research assistant) or another (grants and fellowships), they will not only attend the school tuition-free, they will also get paid living expenses. I should know, I'm one of these graduate students (although not an international one).

    In fact, if it's a public institution, these foreign graduate students actually cost the department extra in the "out-of-state fee", because the department usually ending up paying for these (usually in the amount of $10,000 per year) which foreign graduate students have to pay until they pass their qualifiers (or some such mark which happens on the third or fourth year, if they are on track to graduate fast), whereas domestic students, even if they are not from within the state, would qualify for in-state tuition within a year. This is often used as a justification for having a higher standard for foreign student admission.

    Also, if you want to argue about intellectual freedom, don't pull a double standard and argue against the whole idea of classified projects and all those informations that are supposedly too sensitive for taxpayers to know and yet cost them money. I might agree with you there.

    Once you have accepted the existence of classified information, well, why should these foreign graduate students have access to these when most of the population with actual vested interest in this country cannot get access to this information, and not without going through some sort of clearance process?

    It's easy to talk about "intellectual freedom" and "freedom of information" (BTW, none of these are fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, the way freedom of speech is, especially if you accept classifying information as being constitutional) when you ignore the reality, just like it's easy for liberals to talk about "spreading the wealth" and having a "safety net" that lets the unemployed live in luxury, as long as they ignore the realities of the real world economics.

    When you are ready to come back down to earth and discuss in earnest with the limitations of the real world in mind, then perhaps your arguments will make more sense.

    P.S. BTW, this isn't about the academia. This is about a defense contractor sharing information he shouldn't. Do you think Lockheed-Martin should freely share information about all the bombers and stealth fighters they build?

  • by blueg3 (192743) on Friday July 03, 2009 @05:28PM (#28575281)

    Students who paid the same tuition as every other student, yet cannot experience the same intellectual freedoms as their peers all because some magic list-of-the-week says their Fearless Leader (whom in many cases they came to the US because they don't like the policies or education climate back home) pissed in our Cheerios.

    Actually, ITAR regulations require that no foreign nationals work on the project -- not just ones from countries like China and Iran. Many universities (or individual professors) do actually reject any ITAR projects, since it places significant restrictions on them and their students.

  • by sirwired (27582) on Friday July 03, 2009 @05:35PM (#28575335)

    The first time I obtained security clearance, we were all told that not only were we barred for life from talking about any classified data without permission, but that they would keep the physical piece of paper that we signed stating we understood all this for at least 75 years.

    They want to preclude the possibility that you will EVER think about claiming you didn't know the restrictions.

    SirWired

  • Re:Guilty. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday July 03, 2009 @06:33PM (#28575759)

    He doesn't work in "defense", he's a retired University professor who works for a company doing work with plasma. Comparing him to yourself is disingenuous at best.

    Okay. I work for a university and the government working in a similar field as the professor in question. I'm familiar with the ITAR regulations, and I sign agreements to not disclose this kind of information. I'm strictly science, yet I still have to use aircraft and spacecraft that are dual purposed. I know exactly the rules he had to follow...

    Universities (especially physics) works very differently than a company with regard to "classified" information.

    Nope. I'm held to the same standards as my civil servant colleagues. I even have to take the same training sessions. We don't call it FIOS, or SECRET but the acronyms we use have same meanings associated with them.

    Yah, there's some kind of nonsense restriction on what you can do with it, but remember it never really had defense implications in the first place.

    The trouble with your argument is that the UAV in question is a UAV that is similar to the one used in defense, but assigned a civilian task. The information that he provided did compromise security.

    So, if we're talking about environments here, that's quite a different environment than the one you're describing.

    Different? Yes. Different enough? No. I have projects that allow non-US grad students and I have projects that don't...

  • by skoda (211470) on Friday July 03, 2009 @07:48PM (#28576235) Homepage

    The rules have changed. It is now illegal to "export" ITAR data, that is "sensitive" defense technology to foreign persons. However, this data is not classified. You can tell it to any and every US Person: your friends, family, neighbors, convenience store clerk. SO long as they are a US Person and also know not to tell it to Foreign National, they can know it.

    However, telling it to a Canadian can get you sent to prison.

    The rules have changed. And it's damaging to critical industries and research institutions.

  • Re:Why stop there.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by skoda (211470) on Friday July 03, 2009 @07:54PM (#28576271) Homepage

    If this is ITAR and not classified data, then there may not be the signing of voluminous forms. ITAR just is. If your company is on top of it, then the staff will get powerpoint briefings about it. But there aren't signatures and forms and etc.

    And everyone is liable regardless of whether they've heard of ITAR, had the powerpoint briefings or don't even work in defense industries. If you, say, bought a bulletproof vest from eBay and then traveled to Mexico you'd be guilty of an ITAR violation. (real example)

  • by skoda (211470) on Friday July 03, 2009 @07:58PM (#28576287) Homepage

    And this is how ITAR is damaging to our national security. As the DOE and DOD are major funding agencies at universities and national labs, we are now creating a research system that prevents foreign nationals from participating. And since they are a large percentage of our grad students, that's a major problem. It subsequently makes the US a less enticing place for the skilled students we'd like to immigrate here.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Friday July 03, 2009 @08:12PM (#28576385)

    Many universities (or individual professors) do actually reject any ITAR projects, since it places significant restrictions on them and their students.

    Correct. And they're within their rights to do just that. This guy apparently did not.

  • Re:Lying or stupid? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kencurry (471519) on Friday July 03, 2009 @08:41PM (#28576587)

    Thank you for saying all that.

    The punishment doesn't strike me as particularly useful either. Seems too severe, especially when considering that he likely didn't mean to hurt the US. Do they want to scare off everyone? ...

    Huh? that's the whole point of putting him in prison. Society cannot trust him, so we pay to lock him up. hopefully he will learn his lesson in there, but at least he can't do any damage to our country from inside prison. And yes, we do want to scare off everyone else who is thinking about doing what he did.

  • For starters, the good professor is an idiot. He has worked on DoD contracts, and either knew or should have known that from the moment he started developing on the DoD's dime, any technology he dealt in not already a standard part of a BSEE/CS/Chem/Physics degree program in the US was going to be suspect under ITAR [state.gov].

    In addition, the import and export of any commercial item is subject to review under the Export Administration Regulations [doc.gov] of the DoC. And, as Dr. Roth is being reminded the hard way, "export" can occur the moment a foreign national or domestic agent of a foreign nation groks your IP.

    You may not agree with the law as it stands, but the Federal Government is on very strong Constitutional ground with respect to whatever border controls it chooses to enact. So, your options are: 1) follow the laws, 2) not follow the laws, and/or 3) bug your representatives to change the law. You can select (2), and many do, but it's kind of like not paying your income taxes for a few years: it sucks big time when you get caught.

  • by ahabswhale (1189519) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @01:56AM (#28578097)
    ROFL...you are a fucking moron. Letting foreign nationals participate in these programs is like giving the information away. There's no fucking way to keep it secret if you do that. We might as well just email China will all our secret shit. If the rules were changed such that the DoD had to allow foreign nationals to work on these projects, they would simply stop funding the university research entirely. I guaranfuckingteeit.
  • by BitZtream (692029) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @03:19AM (#28578407)

    The kneejerk reaction you are seeing is because intelligent people know instantly that 'secret goverment project' regardless of who knew what before hand, means, as a general rule, you're going to have to keep your fucking mouth shut.

    The reaction you are seeing is because appearently EVERYONE else in the world knows not to do this shit, except this guy, who claims he didn't know, which again, every who has worked with the government on these sorts of things knows is bullshit because they drill it into your head so many times it makes you sick.

    The reaction is because EVERYONE IN THE WORLD realizes how sticky these situations are and how careful you have to be to cover your own ass, and when they see someone go to another country that has no problem stilling data from the US and makes no attempt to hide it, WITH DATA HE WAS TOLD NOT TO TALK ABOUT, and then he goes out of his way to show it to people, its not like he lost his laptop ....

    Sorry, rambling on ... we react this way because the whole thing is so obviously an area where you'd be careful as fuck even if you were Forrest Gump, that we just don't accept an excuse and it does, in fact, appear to be blatant treason to anyone with 3 or more brain cells.

  • by skoda (211470) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @10:29AM (#28579987) Homepage

    It has been enforced with vigor not seen for about 30 years; the aerospace community hadn't really heard about nor cared about ITAR until about six years ago. And they didn't care about it until ITT was walloped with a $100M fine in 2007.

  • by elnyka (803306) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @02:28PM (#28581713) Homepage

    And this is how ITAR is damaging to our national security. As the DOE and DOD are major funding agencies at universities and national labs, we are now creating a research system that prevents foreign nationals from participating. And since they are a large percentage of our grad students, that's a major problem. It subsequently makes the US a less enticing place for the skilled students we'd like to immigrate here.

    This is stupid. You might have an argument if the majority of science research in the US were subject to these regulations. Newsflash: they are not.

    Only a very small amount of research in academia is subject to these type of regulations. Ergo, these regulations do not prevent foreign students from conducting research in the many, many, but really, many more areas of studies that are not tied to classified material.

    If we were to follow your line of logic, we could then argue that hiring restrictions in DOE projects hurt IT/science in the US since they prevent non-US citizens from getting hired. Obviously, that has not been the case.

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