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Top NASA scientists pleads guilty to lying about role in China's Thousand Talent Program

The NASA scientist concealed his relationship with the Chinese government sponsored program for more than a decade

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A NASA logo at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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Updated: January 15, 2021 - 7:44am

A senior scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has pleaded guilty to making false statements to law enforcement officials about China's Thousand Talents Program – established by the Chinese government to recruit individuals with access to or knowledge of the technology and intellectual property of foreign countries and place them in professorial roles at universities in China, South Korea and Japan. 

Meyyappan, 66, was charged with one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. 

Meyya Mayyappan has worked for NASA since 1996 and in 2006 became the chief scientist for Exploration Technology at the Center for Nanotechnology in Silicon Valley. 

In October of 2020, Meyyappan was interviewed by the FBI, NASA inspector general's office and the district attorney of New York's office. During the interview, Meyyappan falsely stated that, among other things, he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program. 

"Meyya Meyyappan held a trusted position at NASA, with access to valuable intellectual property.  In violation of the terms of his employment and relevant laws and regulations, Meyyappan failed to disclose participation in a Chinese government recruitment program, and subsequently lied about it to NASA investigators, FBI agents, and our Office.  Now, having admitted his crime, Meyyappan awaits sentencing," said acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.

U.S. government officials cannot maintaining undisclosed affiliations with foreign entities – particularly those seeking to undermine the intellectual property and technological advancements of the United States. 

"Actions like those carried about by Meyyappan can have security implications, and his charges should serve as a warning to others thinking about engaging in the same type of activity," said FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr.