Thursday, September 4, 2008

J. Reece Roth conviction

J. Reece Roth

I am not exactly sure of what to make of this back burner case involving a retired physicist and violation of US law regarding dissemination of sensitive military data. Yesterday a federal jury found J. Reece Roth guilty on 18 counts of conspiracy, fraud and violating the Arms Export Control Act.

Duncan Mansfield of the Associated Press wrote:

A federal jury convicted a retired University of Tennessee professor Wednesday of passing sensitive information from a U.S. Air Force contract to two foreign research assistants from China and Iran.

Jurors deliberated about six hours before finding plasma physics expert J. Reece Roth guilty Wednesday on 18 counts of conspiracy, fraud and violating the Arms Export Control Act.

Prosecutors in the Knoxville trial said Roth gave the two graduate students access to sensitive information while they researched a plasma-guidance system for unmanned aircraft.

Roth, 70, testified last week that he didn't break the law.

He faces up to 160 years in prison and more than $1.5 million in fines. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 7.

Prosecutors presented several documents suggesting research by Roth's university laboratory or a spinoff company, Atmospheric Glow Technologies Inc., was restricted.

But Roth insisted that he didn't break the law because he hadn't proved that his research worked.

"My understanding was that it only applied to things that worked, and we had not shown that. We had a lot of work to do," Roth testified.

Roth is also accused of taking reports and related studies in his laptop to China during a lecture tour in 2006, and having one report e-mailed to him there through a Chinese professor's Internet connection.

The government seized materials from Roth's office and took his computer from him at the airport when he returned from the trip. Prosecutors claim he violated the export control act simply by taking the laptop with sensitive materials outside the country even if, as forensic evidence showed, he didn't open all of those files while he was in China.

The charges involve work performed from 2004 to 2006 on two Air Force contracts by Roth, graduates students Xin Dai of China and Sirous Nourgostar of Iran, and university spinoff company Atmospheric Glow Technologies Inc. of Knoxville.

Atmospheric Glow Technologies recently pleaded guilty to 10 counts of exporting defense-related materials and Roth protege Daniel Sherman has pleaded guilty to related charges. Sentencing in those cases in still pending.

Dr. J. Reece Roth's background

From the United States Department of Justice

In researching this case, I never discovered a "motive" for his actions. Was it money...dislike of the United States? It is difficult to fathom the motivation in light of his stellar career. Maybe it was a genuine mistake and misunderstanding. The jury was probably forced to draw a guilty verdict based solely on the violation of the law but surely mitigation for a 70 year old professor is in order and the extreme harshness of the potential punishment is disproportional.

6 comments:

Timray said...

I am too bothered by the motives here and although I lack any proof I cannot deny this visceral feeling it was all a simple mistake by a stellar professor.....sad indeed and the fact he is seventy bothers me too....and to add to this, why I avoid jury duty

Mercury said...

If this was intended to be an "object" case...a lesson that the Federal Government is strict and ruthless in upholding laws especially with national security, then they have failed for this case received little press.

John F. Santarius said...

This almost certainly is a case of a scientist/engineer's research overlapping a sensitive area, resulting in Reece Roth getting trapped in the morass of export and classification regulations. I have known Reece for two decades and have had no cause to question his integrity or loyalty to the US. On the contrary, his research from his NASA days onward has aimed to further US technical capabilities.

Mercury said...

John F. Santarius:

I have sort of let this item slip by but I did some current searching and discovered that the sentencing will be conducted on January 7th, 2009. I went back and reread one of the links [from the Department of Justice dated May 20th, 2008] and through an Internet search discovered a September 3rd, 2008 update [ http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2008/September/08-nsd-774.html ] with this curious addition: ""Today's guilty verdict should serve as a warning to anyone who knowingly discloses restricted U.S. military data to foreign nationals. The illegal export of such sensitive data represents a very real threat to our national security, particularly when we know that foreign governments are actively seeking this information for their military development," said Patrick Rowan, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security." As I stated in the main article body, this was a back burner piece of news and somehow does not have the teeth and bite of a public "...warning to anyone who knowingly discloses restricted U.S. military data to foreign nationals." I have neither read the particulars [evidence] of the case nor read the judge's instructions to the jury, but it still on balance does not merit a full 18 count conviction. I don't even think any direct harm resulted in his actions to American citizens whereas current Wall Street players are enjoying their freedom and fat bank accounts.

This link with the internal search engine will provide an update...

Tennessee Journalist

http://tnjn.com/2008/sep/03/federal-jury-convicts-retired-/

nanoalchemist said...

And yet, I read today that several TB of data (terabytes!) of data on the Joint Strike Fighter were hacked by *possibly* China. I think the good Professor has been a bit set up. The military should know how academics work, and either 1) live with the possible "leaks" (innocent though they are) or 2) properly train their outsourced researchers. Given they can't stop terabytes of information from getting lose, I think option 2 is not going to be effective.

Anonymous said...

He was provided direction by the University of Tennessee Export Control Omsbudsman that he was violating the statutes of the Arms Export Control Act when he knowingly permitted Techncial Data to be provided to Foreign Persons whose countries of origin are both sanctioned by the U.S. Department of State. He gets what he deserves - Age 70 or not.