Campus Reform | Texas A&M prof, NASA researcher arrested for alleged China ties

Texas A&M prof, NASA researcher arrested for alleged China ties

A Texas A&M professor allegedly lied about his association with Chinese entities, including a university, in his application for federal research funds.

He is said to have used advanced knowledge of NASA programs to increase his standing at foreign universities.

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Texas A&M professor and NASA researcher Zhengdong Cheng was arrested Sunday for alleged conspiracy, false statements, and wire fraud.

According to a United States Department of Justice press release, Cheng allegedly “willfully took steps to obscure his affiliations and collaboration with a Chinese University and at least one Chinese-owned company.” 

Cheng’s research grant barred him from collaborating with Chinese entities.

Cheng allegedly provided false information to Texas A&M and NASA, allowing him to receive federal funds for a research grant. Cheng is associated with Guangdong University of Technology in China and other foreign institutions of higher education. He gained access to what the DOJ called “increased access to unique NASA resources, such as the International Space Station,” resulting in better positioning at Guangdong and other universities. 

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Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers explained that “Once again, we have witnessed the criminal consequences that can arise from undisclosed participation in the Chinese government’s talent program.” He said the Department of Justice will work to “expose the exploitation of our nation and our prized research institutions."

Alan Kohler, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said that Cheng allegedly “knowingly deceived NASA officials about his association with Chinese owned companies and universities, willingly accepted U.S. government funding, and defrauded his university.”

FBI Houston Special Agent Perrye Turner stated that Texas A&M has provided “significant assistance through their partnership with us throughout this case.”

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"We worked closely with the FBI on this case, and we gladly will work with them again as needed,” Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in a statement Monday. “No one in higher education takes security as seriously as we do at The Texas A&M University System. In fact, we have received several awards from the Department of Defense’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, including one just last month.”

Campus Reform has reported on a series of similar criminal charges against professors with ties to China. 

In late July, a professor at the University of Arkansas was indicted for receiving funds from China and failure to disclose ties to Chinese companies. Additionally, a researcher at the University of California-Davis was detained by American officials after it was discovered that she was an alleged active member of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft