Tennessee professor accused of spying for China is acquitted by federal judge

NASA court case against Tennessee Professor

Anming Hu, the Chinese professor accused of hiding his ties with China while applying for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project research grant, has been acquitted. 

The case: Hu, a former associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, had been accused of deliberately hiding a professorship he held with Beijing University of Technology on forms submitted to UT Knoxville and NASA, according to the Associated Press.

  • Hu’s case is part of the Department of Justice’s controversial China Initiative which started during the Trump administration in 2018.
  • The initiative aimed to prevent the transfer of trade secrets and classified information to China by rooting out suspected Chinese spies working at American universities.

The trial: During Hu’s six-day trial, federal agents testified about the professor’s work at the Beijing University of Technology. In their testimonies, University of Tennessee employees also tried but failed to clearly explain NASA’s policies and supposed restrictions on funding for any collaborations with a Chinese entity, reported the Wall Street Journal in June.  

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  • Prosecutors cited evidence that included correspondence between the professor and University of Tennessee officials. 
  • However, Tennessee District Judge Thomas Varlan said some cited evidence suggested Hu did not attempt to hide his work in Beijing.
  • A federal agent also admitted to using false information to pressure Hu to become a spy for the U.S. and to put him on a no-fly list, NextShark previously reported. 
  • Hu’s case ended in a mistrial in June after a jury was deadlocked.

The verdict: On Thursday, Judge Varlan acquitted Hu of all the charges, citing the failure of the U.S. government to prove that Hu intended to deceive NASA, reported the Wall Street Journal

  • In his 52-page ruling, Varlan noted that the research awards’ governing rules were confusing, stating that prosecutors provided no evidence to prove their case. 
  • The judge wrote: “NASA bargained for research on a particular scientific topic in exchange for providing funding to the research project. And there is no evidence that NASA did not receive exactly the type of research that it bargained for. The government attempts to redefine the bargain in this case.”

Featured Image via WATE 6 On Your Side

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