Former Tennessee Professor Gets 4 Years For Letting Students Know About Drone Plans

Posted Jul 4, 2009

John Reece Roth is a former plasma physicist that is sentenced for four years.  The former physicist professor was charged with 18 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and violation of the Arms Export Control Act.  The professor allowed a Chinese and an Irani grad student see sensitive information about unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.

?The illegal export of restricted military data represents a serious threat to national security,? stated David Kris, Assistant Attorney General in the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, ?We know that foreign governments are actively seeking this information for their own military development. Today?s sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who knowingly discloses restricted military data in violation of our laws.?

Roth formed a company called Atmospheric Glow Technologies as a spin off from the University of Tennessee in 2004.  Atmospheric Glow received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop a plasma actuator to help reduce the drag on the wings of the drones.  As part of the contract, Roth was paid $6,000 and was forbidden from sharing sensitive data with people from out of the country.  The warning came directly frm the University Export Control Officer.

However the professor took a laptop with sensitive data to a lecture in China.  He even allowed Chinese graduate student Xin Dai and Irani graduate student Sirous Nourgostar to work on his project.  Atmospheric Glow Technologies pleaded guilty to 10 counts of breaking export laws.  And a company physicist Daniel Sherman pleaded guilty to conspiracy for lying about Xin Dai being employed.

Roth claimed that he was unaware that hiring graduate students was a violation of the contract.  If he knew it was a violation then he would not have participated in the plasma research project.  Plasma physicist at the University of Washington-Madison John Santarius said that he believed Roth was usually patriotic and careful.

[via Scientific American]