Young Electronics Engineer commits suicide – was maybe asked to spy by the chinese government
On June 24 last year, the body of a young US electronics engineer, Shane Todd, was found hanging in his Singapore apartment. Police said it was suicide, but the Todd family believe he was murdered. Shane had feared that a project he was working on was compromising US national security. His parents want to know if that project sent him to his grave
Mary and Rick Todd were anxious about entering the apartment where their oldest son had lived and died. Late last June the couple had flown from Montana to Denver to Los Angeles to a colonial-era house in the Chinatown district of Singapore to try to make sense of an unthinkable loss: Shane Todd, a young engineer who had just wrapped up an 18-month stint with a government research institute known as IME, was dead – an apparent suicide, according to the Singapore police. Mrs Todd felt her heart pounding as she climbed the narrow staircase to his apartment and thought about what the police had told her two days earlier.
Shane had died a week before he was to return to the US. The police said he had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair. Shane, 6ft 1in and nearly 200lb, hanged himself from the bathroom door, the autopsy report said.
So the Todds, along with two of Shane’s younger brothers, John and Dylan, were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said.
Beyond the bathroom, Shane’s home looked like a snapshot of a man in the middle of a move. There was laundry in the dryer and dirty washing on the floor. Clean clothes were folded on the couch. Boxes were packed. Shane, in his last hours, had been trying to sell his furniture. He had written out price tags. The Todds found Shane’s airline ticket on the dining table. His laptops and mobile phone were gone – taken and kept by the Singapore police.
As the Todds looked around the apartment, some of Shane’s friends and co-workers stopped by. The Todds were eager to meet them. No one could quite grasp Shane’s death: his girlfriend said he had been stressed about work, which his parents knew; but some work colleagues said Shane had been particularly upbeat on his last day at IME. A group had met at a steak restaurant and Shane said he had a job lined up in the States. One friend turned on a laptop to show the Todds a video of Shane at a karaoke bar. He was wearing Bermuda shorts and belting out “Susie Q”, “his go-to song”, his brother John said. “Everyone laughed so hard, because it was so Shane,” Mrs Todd said.
Before leaving, Mrs Todd noticed what looked like a small speaker. “Do you think the boys could use this?” she asked her husband. “Put it in the bag,” he said.
That last-minute find has altered the story of Shane Todd’s death. The card-sized plastic case was not a speaker but an external hard drive with a back-up of his computer files, including his work at IME, and a timetable and plan for a project that apparently involved IME and Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecom giant.
The plan lays out how, from 2012 to the end of 2014, IME and Huawei would “co-develop” an amplifier device powered by gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material able to withstand extreme heat and power levels well beyond silicon. GaN devices have commercial use in lighting as well as high-powered transistors for mobile phone base stations. They also have tremendous military potential, and major US defence contractors – including Northrup-Grumman and Raytheon – have pursued significant research and development in GaN for use in radar and satellite communications.High quality global journalism requires investment.
Security and technology experts consulted by the FT reviewed the project plan and all noted its civilian and potential military applications. Robert York, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara – a world leader in GaN research and where Shane earned a doctorate in silicon devices – said it would be “unnerving but not surprising” if Huawei were to be trying to advance its GaN technology. The high-powered amplifier has civilian use but “could be used for a number of military applications: high-powered radar, electronic warfare including signal jamming and even potentially some weapons”, Professor York added.