Senior NASA scientist involved in China’s “Thousand Talents Program” sentenced to prison

Meyya Meyyappan, a senior NASA scientist who participated in China’s “Thousand Talents Program,” has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. federal prosecutors announced.

As a senior NASA scientist with access to sensitive and classified U.S. government technology and intellectual property, it is understandable that Meyya Meyyappan was subject to restrictions on outside employment and compensation,” said Audrey Strauss, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, on Wednesday (June 16). When questioned by the FBI and NASA, Meyappan made false statements about his employment by a Chinese government-funded program that recruits people with access to foreign technology and intellectual property.”

She said, “The privilege of access to advanced U.S. technology and intellectual property carries with it the critical duty to protect those secrets. Mayappan betrayed that trust by failing to disclose his offshore activities and then compounding his mistake by lying to the FBI and NASA.”

Born in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Meyappan earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in India, the United Kingdom and the United States before becoming a U.S. citizen. He was employed by NASA from about 1996 to 2021, and since about 2006 has served as chief scientist for exploration technologies at the Nanotechnology Center at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Calif.

According to NASA’s Web page, Dr. Meyappan received numerous awards for his contributions and leadership in nanotechnology, including the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal.

The charging documents allege that Meiyappan disregarded legal requirements and departmental restrictions by participating in China’s Thousand Talents Program and holding professorships at universities in China, South Korea and Japan, and failed to disclose these relationships and positions to NASA and the U.S. Government Ethics Office. In an October 2020 interview with the FBI, NASA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Meyappan falsely stated that he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program and did not hold a position at a Chinese university funded by the Chinese government.

Meyappan pleaded guilty in January of this year.

Meiyappan is not the first U.S. researcher to be convicted of concealing his participation in the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Program.

In April, a federal jury found Xiaorong You, a senior chemist involved in China’s Thousand Talents Program, guilty of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud. Song Guo Zheng, an immunologist who led a team of autoimmune researchers at Ohio State University and Penn State University, was sentenced in May to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud.

In February 2020, Charles Lieber, a prominent nanotechnology expert and chair of Harvard’s chemistry and biochemistry departments, was arrested on charges of concealing his ties to a Chinese university and participating in the “Thousand Talents Program” while receiving federal funds. He was indicted by a grand jury in June 2020. Lieber has refused to plead guilty, and his trial has not yet begun.