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

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the read-before-you-sign dept.

The Courts 354

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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Why stop there.. (0, Troll)

powerslave12r (1389937) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574879)

Why not go ahead and sentence the students for "trying to steal" sensitive date from the USAF?

Re:Why stop there.. (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574917)

Presumably because the students weren't the ones who signed the reams of paperwork acknowledging they were being given access to sensitive data and shouldn't be sharing it with foreign nationals. Unless procedures have changed a lot, you don't get legitimate access to such information without being told ad nauseum who you should and shouldn't be sharing it with and what the penalties are for breaking those rules.

Re:Why stop there.. (5, Interesting)

caladine (1290184) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575231)

My experience with US security clearance was exactly as you describe. I literally had 8 hours of reading/signing documents and had to sign at least 3 that told me explicitly who I could and could not talk to about what I was doing. Each was read to me after I read it myself, and they went line by line to make sure I understood it. Roth is completely full of crap if he claims he didn't know. The process left me with the distinct impression that if I even had a hint that I shouldn't be talking about it or wasn't sure, I should keep my big mouth shut. The funny part is, I'm not sure I actually saw anything classified during my stint. Not that I'm going to be talking about any of it, because I'm just not sure, but still. Doubly funny was debriefing, that also took 8 hours where they went over everything again that I had gone through when I received clearance in the first place.

I remember the first time I signed... (4, Informative)

sirwired (27582) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:I remember the first time I signed... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575559)

Yay for Wikileaks.

Re:Why stop there.. (5, Insightful)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575415)

I work on NATO military things.

They're pretty clear what you can talk about and with whom. Moreover to your point, if someone takes a strong interest in your work, you shall document and report it as a potential security breach.

Roth is getting a pretty light slap with four years.

Re:Why stop there.. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575445)

Actually TFA doesn't say the material was actually Classified and there's a good chance it wasn't. Data doesn't need to be classified to fall under export restrictions under ITAR/EAR regulations.

Also, just taking he data out of the country is a violation, irrespective of sharing it with anyone.

Re:Why stop there.. (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575539)

The best defense it to play dumb. With some luck you can get some charges to be dropped, anyway it's worth at least a try.

Re:Why stop there.. (1)

danking (1201931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574925)

I don't think you can be sentenced for that if they were allowed to work on a project. It wasn't their responsibility to confirm that the contract their employer/teacher had signed had stipulations on certain foreign nationals working on the project.

Re:Why stop there.. (3, Insightful)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575067)

while it is certainly unfortunate that they got sensitive data - the violation of the ITAR was the professors alone and I am glad he was found guilty - aside from the obvious security issues giving away technology weakens our economic and business advantages as well - part of doing business in this country is playing by the rules - if you don't want to play by these rules, then work on non ITAR technologies instead

Re:Why stop there.. (1)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575211)

They could be, but more likely they'll just have their student visas terminated and be sent back to China.

Re:Why stop there.. (3, Interesting)

mysidia (191772) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575521)

Can't send them back if they're already in China. From the summary:

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...

So the students may get some chinese gov't folks knocking on their door, to interview them and ask them lots of questions about the project, but unless their in the US, the US folks won't be doing anything with them....

The article suggests the prof didn't believe the info was sensitive. Maybe it wasn't. That's pretty hard to honestly tell without seeing the info, or know whether it was info he had been provided, or whether it was info discovered by his research (possibly research prior to the military project). But clearly someone thought the info was worth keeping secret.

Still isn't breach of contract a separate issue from export of military technology ?

During his trial, Roth testified that he was unaware that hiring the graduate students was a violation of his contract, otherwise he would not have participated since his plasma research also has non-military applications. "This whole thing has not helped me, it has not helped the university," he told Nature in 2006. "And it has probably not helped this country, either."

John Santarius, a plasma physicist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who has known Roth for two decades says that he always found Roth to be patriotic and careful. âoeIt is so out of character for him to do something like this on purpose,â he says, âoeMy inclination is to believe he made an honest mistake.â

Re:Why stop there.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575535)

Why not go ahead and execute the professor for what he is - a damned traitor!

That's the problem we have in this country. We won't face the truth of a situation and call evil what it is.

Some of my professors (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28574915)

droned on and on too but I wouldn't send them to prison for it!

Guilty. (5, Insightful)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574921)

He knew he wasn't supposed to do it, he was warned not to do it, he did it anyway. He pled guilty.

If he didn't read his contract that's his problem. I also find it very unlikely.

Why is this on slashdot?

Re:Guilty. (5, Funny)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574961)

He knew he wasn't supposed to do it, he was warned not to do it, he did it anyway. He pled guilty. If he didn't read his contract that's his problem. I also find it very unlikely. Why is this on slashdot?

Possibly to serve as a warning to others? That might be his whole purpose in life.

Re:Guilty. (4, Insightful)

thomasw_lrd (1203850) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575065)

Because it's another crybaby story the govt. is evil, copyright is evil, and all nerds should be allowed free access to any information that is in the entire world. I'm surprised they didn't try to tie the iphone and google into it.

Re:Guilty. (3, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575129)

If he didn't read his contract that's his problem. I also find it very unlikely.

Agreed. ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) is something that all defense workers are trained in. It's also explained very carefully that if there's a violation it's not the government program's fault, it's not the company's fault, but it's the employee that's going to prison. It's a pretty strict standard. Even discussing things in the public domain for the wrong purposes can land you in hot water-- giving a citation (book name, page number) of public domain information can violate ITAR if it's in response to, say, a question about missile technology. In essence what you exported there was your expertise in leading the foreign national to that source of information.

Incidentally, these are the same regulations that kept the old PowerMac G4's from being exported and led to the "tank" commercial at the time.

Re:Guilty. (1, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575161)


He knew he wasn't supposed to do it, he was warned not to do it, he did it anyway. He pled guilty.

Wrong, maybe, and wrong. In his trial (he didn't plead guilty, that was a different party) he said he didn't think it was illegal (see below).
(from the article and the summary, which apparently you either didn't read or comprehend)

During his trial, Roth testified that he was unaware that hiring the graduate students was a violation of his contract, otherwise he would not have participated since his plasma research also has non-military applications.


If he didn't read his contract that's his problem.

Have you ever read a real contract? Even lawyers have difficulty interpreting many of them.

Re:Guilty. (3, Insightful)

dummondwhu (225225) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575301)

Those of us who work in defense are trained until we're blue in the face about how to handle sensitive information, what is and is not releasable, and what an "export" is in defense terms (it's more than it sounds). My company trains us extensively on that, and maybe the company he founded didn't bother to pound these things into the heads of the people in the company, but it's just not a good excuse. If we are to be trusted to handle classified information, it's up to us to make sure we understand proper safeguarding of that info. Can I recite all the rules and regs? Hell no, but I guarantee I'm not taking any information anywhere or giving information to anyone without running it through proper channels first. That's not just common sense, but what we're trained to do on an ongoing basis.

Re:Guilty. (5, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575573)


Those of us who work in defense are trained until we're blue in the face about how to handle sensitive information, what is and is not releasable

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.

Universities (especially physics) works very differently than a company with regard to "classified" information. Here's how it works. You want research money. You apply for a grant from the DOE for said research money where you check "yes this has potential weapons applications" (because hey, what doesn't?). The DOE grants your request. In reality your research only meets the barest minimum for a qualification of "weapons potential". 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.

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

Re:Guilty. (1)

dmartine40 (1571035) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575419)

Have you ever read a real contract? Even lawyers have difficulty interpreting many of them.
By signing a contract, this professor agreed to all its terms an conditions, and was bound by them. After that, there really was little or no valid reason for violating it.

OK, One Correction. (2, Insightful)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575533)

"he didn't plead guilty, that was a different party"

That's true, I'll grant you that. My fault for skim-reading.

"In his trial...he said he didn't think it was illegal (see below). (from the article and the summary, which apparently you either didn't read or comprehend)"

I read that. Sorry, I don't buy it. He's claiming ignorance, but there's no way that's true. It specifically states in the article that he took that laptop to China "despite warnings from his University's Export Control Officer". Even if he somehow missed the boat in the "what not to share" session that was undoubtely provided for him, he knew then. He's guilty.

Re:Guilty. (0)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575167)

I agree, he broke he rules damned well knowing it was wrong ( and just stupid ). Toss his ass in jail.

Are the torrents of the plans up yet? :)

Re:Guilty. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575257)

Why is this on slashdot?

For the same reason we get every "government agent lost a laptop/forgot to wipe a hard-drive" story. It demonstrates how bad the government and its contractees are at keeping secrets.

Re:Guilty. (1)

gangien (151940) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575647)

yet the same people want to have the government run things like health care.

Re:Guilty. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575623)

Possibly because 4 *years* in prison might be considered a tad, I don't know, excessive?

Lamest court defense ever (5, Funny)

Mad Marlin (96929) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574935)

I had no idea that the US Military would get pissed if I shared details about how to build flying robots with people from Iran and China! I swear it!

Re:Lamest court defense ever (0)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575163)

yeah, I mean now their drone are going to have less drag too!! If it wasn't for this damn professor then only the US drones would fly with less drag!

Re:Lamest court defense ever (1)

someonehasmyname (465543) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575513)

I'm sure the drag related tech isn't the only useful stuff they found in the plans. They're probably using them to supe up their own rigs, as well as get a better understanding of OUR drone's radar footprint, etc.

Not long enough (5, Insightful)

m509272 (1286764) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574943)

Should have been 40 years, idiot. Just bringing the laptop to China is shear stupidity.

Re:Not long enough (1)

Robin47 (1379745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574967)

Should have been 40 years, idiot. Just bringing the laptop to China is shear stupidity.

Especially after being told not to...

Re:Not long enough (4, Insightful)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575047)

Especially after being told not to...

I don't truck much with "being told" what to do.

I do truck with signing a contract that lays out very explicitly what obligations and restrictions to which you you are voluntarily agreeing. He knew (or absolutely should have known) that when you sign a contract to consult for the DOD, you are accepting these restrictions.

This is about as much YRO (which has meant YR for a long time now anyway) as any other mundane contractual disputes that turn up.

Re:Not long enough (0, Troll)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575157)

Contractual or not, four years for sharing some plans seems tad excessive.

Oh well. I guess you have to be American to understand the American judicial system.

Re:Not long enough (4, Interesting)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575195)

Tad excessive? You've never heard of the Rosenbergs [wikipedia.org] , I take it. What country are you from?

Re:Not long enough (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575459)

Why was this perfectly valid counter-example modded Troll?

Re:Not long enough (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575273)

The contract is was an agreement by the professor to conduct certain work with the Air Force in return for funding. Part of this gave the professor access to sensitive military information. That information is protected by other laws, in particular the US Arms Export Control Act.

The professor is going to jail not for problems with observing the contract, but for breaking a pretty serious national security law.

Re:Not long enough (5, Funny)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575025)

shear stupidity

Maybe, but his haircut is irrelevant. This was just irresponsible.

Re:Not long enough (0, Troll)

welcher (850511) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575081)

Cos the US doesnt put enough people in jail for long enough, right?

Re:Not long enough (1)

patro (104336) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575139)

Should have been 40 years, idiot. Just bringing the laptop to China is shear stupidity.

Not really relevant. The data can be copied from it just as easily in the US.

Even the " prohibited from sharing sensitive data with foreign nationals" condition is a fluff, since a foreign nation can simply pay a US citizen to get the data.

Re:Not long enough (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575327)

Even the " prohibited from sharing sensitive data with foreign nationals" condition is a fluff, since a foreign nation can simply pay a US citizen to get the data.

That US citizen would then be subject to the same legal sanctions the Professor got under the US laws prohibiting export of this information.

Re:Not long enough (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575203)

You wouldn't be saying that if you knew the person. You're the kind of person who is a fucking moron. 40 years? WHAT THE FUCK. Why is it that everyone in USA argues for longer prison times? I would've thought there was no one left outside of prisons over there to argue it.

Re:Not long enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575353)

Should have been 40 years, idiot. Just bringing the laptop to China is shear stupidity.

It seems likely that his research helping reduce the drag on the wings of drones ought to have warned him in advance of any shear problems...

Enough already (-1, Offtopic)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 5 years ago | (#28574957)

You know, when the military needs to spend money, on useless stuff just to keep a certain amount "fixed" come next budget time
, they should maybe invest more on getting real engineers that work only for them, and not outsource or contract out these types of military operations. Do the blueprints belong to the US gov. ? If so, then the work done belongs to them,and the employees for the duration of the contract should also.

I keep thinking of that movie Iron Man, where Tony Stark is a corporate tycoon making all sorts of deals with the military
and contracts out all the work. If the company in question or contractors in question became partial employees,
they would not have these problems as the projects could be supervised by proper military personnel.
Having said that, had the person in charge had training with the military, it would have been common sense for him to NOT share sensitive data...but because he had military background, he had no forethought for such things.

Re:Enough already (1)

solevita (967690) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575011)

I guess you meant to say:

Having said that, had the person in charge had training with the military, it would have been common sense for him to NOT share sensitive data...but because he had no military background, he had no forethought for such things.

Still, I've never done anything for the military and I still wouldn't give secrets to the Chinese and Iranians. Not unless I got a free holiday out of it, or maybe some beers.

Share This Information About Plasma Actuators: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28574973)

a search at Google Scholar reveals some interesting information [google.com] .

I hope this helps Slashdot readers build their own open source drones.

Yours In Flight (preferably Stealthy),
Philboyd Studge

Lying or stupid? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28574977)

Let's see, he signed a contract saying he was prohibited from sharing sensitive data with foreign nationals, then he shared it with forign nationals. Now he says "he was unaware that hiring the graduate students (to do work in the project) was a violation of his contract"? He's either too stupid to be a professor, or he's lying.

Have fun in prison bub.

Re:Lying or stupid? (5, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575099)

He made a poor choice, for sure, but a lot of academics live and work in a 'publish freely, collaborate frequently' mind-set that helps share knowledge and advance human understanding. The whole culture of scientific openness, testability and peer review is strongly at odds with the secrecy-is-paramount function of military endeavours. The two must work together if militaries are to benefit from the latest scientific knowledge but the goals of academics and military are not the same and I'm not surprised it leads to such mistakes.

I'm a university UAV researcher myself; I know lots of folks who work with the military to get funding to do research they think is important. It comes with the territory, and most of us are pretty cluey about the defense applications of what we do. I have been to plenty of conferences where the guys from Iran and China are presenting trivial results or not bothering to present at all, only to attend every potentially valuable seminar they can. We know they're trying to use our stuff, they know they're trying to use our stuff, but we feel that sharing knowledge and putting it out there is crucial for the science.

For that reason people are careful about the alliances they make with the military. Working on national security stuff generally means you can't publish anything valuable you come up. I know a few collegues well who can't say what they did between years X and Y when they go for a job interview - it can be kryptonite to your career.

I don't think this guy was necessarily stupid or foolish - I think he was careless after being so used to the routine of publish or perish that he forgot who his collaborators were, and that was his mistake.

Re:Lying or stupid? (5, Interesting)

Green Salad (705185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575483)

I simply don't buy into any arguments presented thus far, for defending a lighter sentence.

I'm the absent-minded type. From experience, I can assure people that the sheer number of security briefings, security awareness tests and periodioc recertifications and signed contracts makes it so even the dumbest idiot can't claim they weren't aware. And yeah, it's corny or awkward as it is to say "I've agreed not to discuss it" to a loved one or potential employer.

With experience, you learn to deflect the "but surely you trust me, don't you?" with "I trust you and think you deserve to know. However, that is not the issue. I gave a solemn promise and feel an ethical duty to make my word mean something. Please don't continue to put me in awkward situations or I will start to think less of you."

The interview process in my own company involves and ethics/honor test that asks the applicant about classified work and if they start to give details, they're not invited back. Who wants to hire dishonorable people to work next to them? Not me.

As far as employment, you can get validation that you were legitimately employed and others in the reseach/tech/engineering industry are used to dealing with it. All classified programs will have an associated FSO (Facility Security Officer) that can provide you process guidance and that persons name and contact info is made clear in the security training and if anyone legitimately wants help with this, drop me a line and I'll do my best.

From experience, the real issue is lack of maturity and strong personal sense of ethics.

Re:Lying or stupid? (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575497)

I think he was careless after being so used to the routine of publish or perish that he forgot who his collaborators were, and that was his mistake.

But he was also convicted of bringing data in his computer to China, even though he was warned by the university's Export Control Officer not to. That doesn't seem like an honest mistake. He was warned that this was a violation of ITAR and he chose to do it anyways. I have a feeling, no proof, that this was the more egregious of the two sets of charges.

Re:Lying or stupid? (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575527)

I don't think this guy was necessarily stupid or foolish - I think he was careless after being so used to the routine of publish or perish that he forgot who his collaborators were, and that was his mistake.

When I warn my children over and over and over not to do X, and then they do X, with the sorry-ass excuse, "oh, I forgot, sorry", I don't send them on their way with a mild slap on the wrist...

unpleasantness (sometimes physical, sometimes emotional) occurs, and it definitely hurts them more than it hurts me!

Re:Lying or stupid? (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575621)

Sorry, I'm not buying it. I do medical research. Mostly open NIH funded stuff, but sometimes when grants are tough to come by I work on pharmaceutical company projects, which I sign NDAs about. I'm very careful not to let information protected by that NDA from slipping into conversation with other folks, let alone putting people from competitors on the project...

The guy was far more than careless.

Re:Lying or stupid? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575609)

Probably both lying and stupid. Lying because his ego/vanity made him think he didn't have to play by what are very clearly defined rules, and stupid for thinking he could get away with it. A Chinese citizen and an Iranian citizen? Could he have picked worse grad students? Or did they pick him?

He got what he deserved. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575013)

You can't work on a top-secret project without signing very serious agreements with Uncle Sam. It just doesn't happen. Therefore he knew damned well he wasn't allowed to share this information, but did so anyway. What the fuck did he expect? What the fuck would *you* expect? If you expected to get away with something like that without consequence, you're a fucking moron.

I find this interesting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575027)

I know he was stupid to do this, however, I was not aware how much of a cornerstone UAVs are to our current military strategy.

I thought they were mainly for recon, I never realized that they can hold a pretty impressive arsenal.

UAVs at Wiki [wikipedia.org] , They are pretty damn cool. I could see why they would get upset about leaked technology as opposed to, say, encryption.

Re:I find this interesting. (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575537)

I know he was stupid to do this, however, I was not aware how much of a cornerstone UAVs are to our current military strategy. ...

Goodness, you must listen to different news outlets than me. From what I've heard, you'd get the impression that our currently ongoing wars are the last wars we're ever going to fight in person. Next war (or these ones if they go on for more than a couple more years), all our soldiers will be in a datacenter in New Mexico or somewhere while the machines they're controlling are on whatever battlefield it is...

What the...?! (5, Funny)

ZarathustraDK (1291688) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575035)

and Sirous Nourgostar of Iran to work

Did George Lucas get offspring in Iran or something?

Re:What the...?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575121)

No, this can be blamed on his bounty hunter; Babby Fat.

As a guy who works on this sort of stuff (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575049)

I'm not entirely surprised by either the sentence, or the seeming lack of security consciousness on the part of the professor and possibly his school. When working on defense-related work it's always best to treat sensitive material with the respect it deserves - in many cases there's no need to go overboard with encryption, physical security, or whatnot, but reasonable measures (e.g., not bringing the Goddamned laptop overseas) should always be taken.

However, from what I heard, the project Dr. Roth was working on wasn't entirely black-ops sort of stuff - he was merely integrating technology previously developed by himself (and others) under funding not remotely related to defense.

It didn't help him? Why should it? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575075)

"This whole thing has not helped me ... And it has probably not helped this country, either."

Interesting that his indignation stems from the feeling that everything should serve to help him. And his country comes second. It suggests that his personal welfare is at the top of his priorities.

I have no reason to believe these particular two students would report this sensitive information to their government. But the man signed a contract with the government stating he would abide by their rules of confidentiality. Then he shares the sensitive information with nationals from two specific countries the U.S. probably has no interest in sharing secrets with. It sounds like he went out of his way to be a scumbag, and 4 years is letting him off light in my opinion.

Antithetical to "education". (5, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575077)

"Openness", both ideologically and in the FOSS sense, forms one of the core requirements of successful academia.

I don't blame or absolve the professor - He had a contract, and I suppose the legal details of this boil down to a matter of contract law (though I most certainly do have a problem with prison time rather than monetary damages for breach of contract). But I do blame both his university and the government itself.

I blame the university for undermining any sense of credibility by selling out to the highest bidder 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.
And I blame the government for foisting their homework onto a domain that largely considers secrecy either beneath consideration or outright contemptible. Don't want foreign students to have access to military projects? Simple - Give those projects to standard military-industrial contractors familiar with paranoid levels of obfuscation and mistrust such as Lockheed, Grumman, Boeing or the like. And if they do decide to tap academia for parts of their research, I blame them for not taking care to prevent any one group from having "enough" information to do anything useful with.


You don't spank a baby for giggling at butterflies, and you don't hold it accountable if you give it a gun and someone gets hurt. Simple as that.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (1)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575285)

this has nothing to do with education, really.

If true, I would indeed change my tone somewhat, but several parts of the story make no sense if we consider this "just" a private company doing military research.

First, why did his university's ExCO have any knowledge of or involvement in his lecture tour in China? If university material, then he committed his crime "for" the university; If purely private material from his company, he arguably violated his contract just by letting them review it.

Second, why did he have grad students working on projects for his company? Research assistant positions commonly come with the territory, but student visas do not equal work visas. Placing them with a private organization not affiliated with the university would likely violated immigration laws, not just the terms of an overblown NDA.

This all makes sense only in one context - The "company" existed as a shell entirely under control of the university for the sole purpose of marketing their IP (IP likely derived from public funds in this case, making the distinction between "university" and "company" even more dubious). Not an uncommon arrangement.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575177)

"You don't spank a baby for giggling at butterflies, and you don't hold it accountable if you give it a gun and someone gets hurt. Simple as that."

Only because a baby doesn't know right from wrong, a Professor doing work for the military should, people need to learn to be accountable for their own stupidity. The kids could and probably are simply students who came to learn but they could easily be something more nefarious and this is why the rules are in place, the professor CHOSE to defy those rules and now he gets to be held accountable.

Don't bring openness into this, the military went to an expert for help, he knew the rules going into it that this wasn't the land of lollipops and bubble gum, it isn't open to share with anyone he wants, he took a job with explicit rules and was stupid enough to ignore them.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (3, Informative)

bkpark (1253468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575269)

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?

Re:Antithetical to "education". (2, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (1)

Labarna (945915) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575295)

I am glad that the academics who worked on the Manhattan Project did not feel this way. Although it is difficult to keep secrets for forever, some need to be kept (to at the very least make "the other side" spend a lot of money to discover them).

Re:Antithetical to "education". (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575359)

"Openness", both ideologically and in the FOSS sense, forms one of the core requirements of successful academia.

So what? Academia isn't under discussion - corporate research and development is.
 
 

I don't blame or absolve the professor - He had a contract, and I suppose the legal details of this boil down to a matter of contract law (though I most certainly do have a problem with prison time rather than monetary damages for breach of contract).

He didn't go to prison because he broke his contract - he went to prison because he broke the law.
 
[Handwaving horsecrap deleted as not worth commenting on.]
 
 

You don't spank a baby for giggling at butterflies, and you don't hold it accountable if you give it a gun and someone gets hurt.

Since it was an adult 'given the gun' - how the fuck is a baby relevant? The professor signed the contract, the professor was given specific warning, how the hell is he not accountable?

Re:Antithetical to "education". (2, Insightful)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575577)

I blame the university for undermining any sense of credibility by selling out to the highest bidder 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

We are talking about a project funded by DOE grant money, not student tuition, and usually the way these things work is that the university skims a whole lot off of that and effectively the DOE subsidizes the tuition of the foreign nationals by providing these projects.

But I don't think the argument holds water anyway. I mean, I pay my taxes the same as anyone else, but would you honestly say this merits my having equal access to nuclear missile silos and chemical weapons laboratories as any other citizen? Should any shareholder of Intel be able to come prancing about in the chip fabrication facility? Should the banker I mortgaged my house to be able to drop in for breakfast whenever he wants? It appears fairly intuitive to me that making an investment in something does not automatically mean you should be able to run in and grab whatever you feel is an equitable share of the benefits.

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.

Yes, and why do you think Fearless Leader was willing to let them go in the first place, hmm? Maybe he's just a real swell guy... but any realistic effort at national security requires considering other possibilities.

And I blame the government for foisting their homework onto a domain that largely considers secrecy either beneath consideration or outright contemptible. Don't want foreign students to have access to military projects? Simple - Give those projects to standard military-industrial contractors familiar with paranoid levels of obfuscation and mistrust such as Lockheed, Grumman, Boeing or the like.

That is a nice generalization about academics, but maybe the ones who voluntarily work on military projects which require secrecy don't exactly fall into your blanket description. We aren't talking about the draft here. And I think you grossly underestimate the entrenchment of academics in military research. Why don't you lookup who worked on the Manhattan project and see how many of them were "standard military-industrial contractors." Los Alamos labs (and other labs) are run by universities on the military's behalf.

I blame them for not taking care to prevent any one group from having "enough" information to do anything useful with.

Why would you give them information they couldn't do anything useful with? What would be the point of giving them information at all?

I doubt there is much I can say to dissuade you that it is not the military's fault, since hey they're the bad guys right? But there are a vast number of practical justifications for their present interactions with academics, and I assure you that no one is forcefully compelled to accept these grant-funded projections (by contrast, you generally must fight to get them). You don't have to like it, but acting like this is a case of an innocent guy getting caught up in the system is myopic at best.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575631)

You are right of course. We don't blame babies, and we should not blame this professor for that same reason: we can see by his actions he lacks the mental faculty to be held responsible for his actions.

At least I am not the only one who thins the professor is about as intelligent as a infant.

Re:Antithetical to "education". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575653)

The students were not "arbitrary". Neither was the work.

The professor is a smart man and should have known better,

Thank god people like you don't run defense projects. Only on slashdot could it be so black and white.

Plasma actuator (3, Insightful)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575087)

Forget the prison sentence, I want to learn about the "plasma actuator that could help reduce drag on the wings of drones". (This is a tech site, remember?) So, how do these work?

Dear Bromfloss: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575113)

I've posted the results of a Google Scholar search above.

Please don't show the results to Chinese nationals.

Yours In Socialism,
K. Trout

Re:Plasma actuator (1)

Camaro (13996) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575209)

I'd love to tell you but first of all, are you from China or Iran?

Re:Plasma actuator (1)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575267)

Here's a good starting point for learning about plasma actuators...

http://www.spacewar.com/reports/AFRL_Proves_Feasibility_Of_Plasma_Actuators.html

Then just Google "plasma actuator". There's lots of good information in the public domain.

Re:Plasma actuator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575447)

Woooooosh

Been there, done that ... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575143)

OK, so I'm in Canada, and everyone knows that Canadians are slackers when it comes to security (sarcasm for the humor challenged).

The prof had to be ignoring the rules deliberately. The paperwork I had to sign required the details of every student working on the project. They didn't have to be security cleared but they sure did have to be Canadian or American. There was no chance to skip over that clause in the contract; a security guy read it to me out loud and made damn sure I understood what it meant.

Re:Been there, done that ... (1)

legirons (809082) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575401)

The paperwork I had to sign required the details of every student working on the project. They didn't have to be security cleared but they sure did have to be Canadian or American.

we have rules like that too. they're not much related to actual security problems, but they are damned useful in circumventing employment discrimation laws...

Not interesting. (1)

CougMerrik (1221450) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575159)

When you accept work that requires government clearance, you are subject to a number of rules regarding the export of technology and know-how that is of importance to National Security. You're probably told repeatedly about such things. Sorry, I don't want the Iranians making their own UAVs off our designs. Guy's an idiot for taking sensitive material overseas in his laptop in the first place. Military and Defense technology isn't something we should be "open" about when there's real regimes out there who don't believe in the same freedoms and basic human rights we take for granted. Crap like this is why we the Russians got the bomb, why the North Koreans have the bomb, etc... Why would you be in favor of these places that don't prize freedom or equality getting their hands on this stuff?

American Engineering Research == Foreign Students (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

I Wasn't Bothered By The Guy's Sentence... (5, Interesting)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575243)

...until I Googled "plamsa actuator" and found a relevant article ranked number one...

http://www.engr.uky.edu/~jdjacob/fml/research/plasma/index.html [uky.edu]

...and a bunch of other good articles listed after it.

Does the DOD think they not have the Internet in China and Iran?

Just by reading this article, you can get a good sense of the concept, which has to do with creating high-speed, non-mechanical aircraft control surfaces via boundary layer manipulation. Is this really that big of a secret?

I'll post more on this after I investigate the thump on the roof and see who's at the front door.

Re:I Wasn't Bothered By The Guy's Sentence... (2, Insightful)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575297)

Yes, I'm replying to myself...

It's kind of funny (or pathetic) but many advanced technologies (like stealth and hypersonics) start out this way. Some guy in some academic lad has a weird idea that actually works. The DOD then takes the concept black and tries to wipe out all traces of the idea's prior existence. They weren't very good at that back in the 70s and 80s and there's no way they are going to be able to do that today, given the power of the Web.

Re:I Wasn't Bothered By The Guy's Sentence... (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575553)

That doesn't remove their obligation to crush anyone who threatens their authority.

Secret military contracts and projects are unethical, unconstitutional, and ineffective, because they are always misused. Without accountability, there's no hope for good behavior, especially when you're dealing in unlimited power. In order to keep their houses in order, the DoD and CIA and other organizations who don't even have names are required to commit evil on top of evil.

I think the only thing more preposterous to the founding fathers than handing any part of our national security to a privately owned entity like Northrop Grumman or Lockheed is that we are then expected to remain unquestionably faithful to the unelected officials who execute said contracts, and hand them hundreds of billions of dollars.

Re:I Wasn't Bothered By The Guy's Sentence... (1)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575585)

Black projects are most likely inEFFICIENT (and even that's debatable, at least when Lockheed's Skunk Works is concerned), but it's not accurate to say that they are inEFFECTIVE. A number of very interesting projects came out of the black world, including the SR-71, U-2, and F-117.

Of course, a lot of money has also been just pissed away.

Re:I Wasn't Bothered By The Guy's Sentence... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575499)

There is some truth in what you say, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. There is usually a wide breach between concept and working implementation. However, it seems likely that the shared information was not details of the plasma actuator, but details about information not developed in his lab - say for the UAVs they were working on...

In other news.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575259)

A sigh of relief for unemployed professors as the University of Tennessee announces a new opening!

$6K - WTF? (3, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575261)

What the hell kind of contract with the DoD is only $6K?
The cost of a security clearance for one person is at least $40K.
Maybe it was one stage of a multi-stage contract, but with the way the news and prosecutors like to exaggerate everything you think they would have quoted the cost of the entire thing.

Re:$6K - WTF? (2, Interesting)

bkpark (1253468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575385)

What the hell kind of contract with the DoD is only $6K?

There must be a typo somewhere. My travel grant to India this year is not too far off from that amount.

Or, if there was no mistake, that's probably the consulting fee personally paid to the professor himself (usually grants pay for grad students, postdocs, and equipments, not the professor's salary, although probably his travel expenses and such).

P.S. According to the AP article linked from TFA, "Roth, 71, testified at trial that he didn't believe he broke the law because the research had yet to produce anything tangible. He said he received only about $6,000 from the contract."

So $6k is the amount disbursed so far; there's no mention of how much was the grant itself.

An marican hero (1, Troll)

hogggwallop (1333549) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575265)

The professor did the world a favor. Sharing defense technology means conflicting powers are on equal strength and are less likely to go to war.

Re:An marican hero (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575475)

That sentiment has been proven wrong so many times it is ridiculous.

Re:An marican hero (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575479)

mod this way up

MAD : the only way to be safe

Face truth: China IS THE ENEMY (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575289)

As is Russia. Get on with it. Trust a commie and you pay in the end, middle, and beginning. Yes, Russians are commies. Face truth !!! There is no single trustworthy home-born Chinese or Russian in the world. Face truth !!! The commie will steal lie cheat, and use you as a tool, like this idiot Prof.

Face Truth: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575377)

Take your sunglasses off Anonymous CowardON.

Your Criminals-IN-Congress are doing a much better job than China and Russia and/or the Soviet Union ever did.

yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaw! (1)

poached (1123673) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575341)

I am sure he has learned his lesson and will keep his mouth and other holes shut at Federal PMITA prison.

Yawn... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28575441)

It seems it's just another day in Dogville...

Life or Death... (3, Funny)

lordsid (629982) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575461)

At the very least he should have received a life sentence. In reality he should have received the death penalty. This is straight up treason of the highest order. The guy was warned not to work on it with the students in question, not to mention he was warned not to take the laptop to china with the sensitive information on it. Some may feel like this is an over reaction but in reality its an under reaction.

"should serve as a warning"? More like a (1)

Dr_Ken (1163339) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575519)

"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.' " No shit. More like a massive kick in balls. This goof shoulda known better.

This entire conversation is rediculous (4, Insightful)

Red Midnight (1440977) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575561)

Why are we even talking about this? The prof was either a complete idiot (and should put his Ph.D. back in the cereal box he got it from) or intentionally broke the law as some act of defiance. What is unclear? He knows he's working on a "secret" project used by the military. He probably got told 6 ways through Sunday he can't talk about it. And he goes to jail because he did what he was told to not do. To say he should not get jail time, or that he's from an academic world, defies logic and COMMON SENSE. Gee, this is a secret military project, I think I'll not only take the data/laptop to China, but I'll share it with Chinese and Iranian students. Gimme a break. It makes no sense. It's much more likely, IMHO, that he was giving a one-finger salute to the US. Even if he weren't, he's a moron, and ignorance of the law is not a valid defence.

Re:This entire conversation is rediculous (1)

Dr_Ken (1163339) | more than 5 years ago | (#28575651)

totally agree.
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