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Was Shane Todd murdered over high-tech secrets?

Shane Todd, a US citizen working in Singapore, believed he had access to restricted tech. His death in 2012 was by suicide, say local authorities. But his family, suspecting murder, wants the FBI to take part in the investigation.

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"It's widely recognized as a key technology for next-generation wireless base stations," said Jannie Luong, a spokeswoman for Huawei Technologies in an e-mail. "The development of GaN technology is commonplace across the entire telecommunications industry."

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What would GaN do for China?

But to outside experts, the 1,000 project files on Todd's hard drive raise many questions. Perhaps most alarming is that the project appeared to have clear military uses, say those who have seen the files.

"There's a specification in there for high-efficiency and high-power amplifiers that covers a frequency band known to be radar," says Mr. Huettner. "It just smelled like defense work."

Just as Huawei would love to have the technology for its cell towers, the Chinese military would love to have it for its radar. If, hypothetically, missiles could be detected 400 miles away by conventional radar, radar equipped with GaN chips could detect missiles perhaps 600 to 800 miles away, experts say. That would increase critical reaction time. Similar upgrades could occur in missile-seeking (homing) capabilities and other crucial military applications.

"If the Chinese get a chip like this it would give them an order of magnitude increase in the capability of their radar systems," says Bernard "Bud" Cole, a retired US Navy captain and China military expert at the National War College. "It would increase Chinese ability to detect incoming aircraft and missiles and enhance their capabilities at sea with shipborne radar."

While the Chinese military has in recent years ramped up its ambitions, it still is playing catch-up, and the GaN chips would represent a significant prize.

"It's obvious that the Chinese are trying to acquire and/or upgrade such high-tech items as radar systems, flight control systems, air traffic control systems," and drones, says Richard Bitzinger, an expert on the Chinese military at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, in an e-mail. "The Chinese have a very obvious interest in trying to upgrade their military (which is still pretty backwards, overall) with systems like modern fighters, surface ships, and submarines. This means getting things like better radars, fire control and communications systems."

Huawei spokeswoman Ms. Luong said the company "does not do military equipment or technology nor do we discuss it with partners."

But others suggest that information-technology businesses in China are intertwined with the military. The industry "can be considered a hybrid defense industry, able to operate with success in commercial markets while meeting the demands of its military customers," according to a 2012 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Last fall, a report by the House Select Committee on Intelligence declared Huawei to be a threat to US national security.

Experts also note that Huawei's research and development of new technologies have historically lagged. So Huawei has established many research partnerships, including several in the US that are focused on GaN technology. So it would be understandable for Huawei to consider a partnership with IME.

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