Steve Liu was stopped by US Customs and Border Protection officers on November 29, 2010. He was flying back from a speaking engagement at a highly technical nanotechnology conference hosted by local universities and Chinese government officials.
The border guards were suspicious when they found conference material in his luggage after Liu had told them he had been to China to visit family.
On the laptop they found hundreds of company documents on Liu’s computer, including several that contained technical data on guidance and control systems governed by U.S. arms export control laws.
Liu’s job at L-3 was to build micro-electro-mechanical system chips to build complex aerospace navigation systems, according to his résumé.
The FBI claimed that Liu had downloaded the data found on his computer without his company’s knowledge and was presenting at the conference without permission. In fact he had told a co-worker that he was vacationing in Chicago. Liu’s presentation was sponsored by the Chinese government.
However there is a little bit of “not quite right” about the black and white approach and declaring Liu a spy.
Computerworld said that William Parker, founder of biotechnology company Creative MicroSystems , who spoke at the conference in 2009, regards the event as a legitimate international forum for international researchers, designed to advance understanding of specific aspects of nanotechnology.
While it was unusual to speak without clearance from your company, a lot of the information goes public.
It seems like a jolly odd spying operation that involves you talking at a public event in China and then going back with all the stolen documents in your briefcase.
The US has a habit of paranoidly chucking the book at anyone they think is spying. Ask the Ethel and Juilius Rosenberg or Bradley Manning.