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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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By late February 2012, Todd told his parents that he was quitting IME and giving 60 days' notice. But he agreed to remain a month longer because he was the only person qualified on the specialized GaN-wafer-making reactors made by Veeco.

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By June 24, one week before he was to leave Singapore for good, Todd was dead. "Nobody we have spoken to thought he was suicidal," Ms. Todd says.

Both IME and Huawei insist there never was a joint research effort on GaN technology – although both acknowledge there were preliminary discussions about one.

"IME approached Huawei on one occasion to cooperate with them in the GaN field, but we decided not to accept, and consequently do not have any cooperation with IME related to GaN," said Huawei's Luong.

Todd's files tell a different story, says Colin Humphreys, director of research at Cambridge University's Centre for Gallium Nitride, a world leader in GaN technology.

"From looking at those documents that IME had been discussing with Huawei, it was clearly a project aimed at making a high-power device," he says. "It could be for a cellphone base station, but it could also just as easily be for military radar."

IME officials deny that the company would illegally import US export-controlled technology or sell it to China. Nor would it share restricted GaN power amplifier recipes. Such allegations, if proved, would be devastating to IME, which among its many projects conducts restricted electronics research for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"IME has internal processes to ensure that it complies fully with such terms and process audits may be conducted to ensure this," reads an IME statement.

Veeco officials also deny the company made any missteps. While it won't categorically rule out supplying a "basic recipe" for GaN chips, the company insists it does not provide advanced chip recipes along with its machines.

"Veeco does not provide 'best known' recipes or technology to our customers," says Debra Wasser, a company spokeswoman, in a statement. The company complies with all federal export laws, including "employing procedures to guard against diversion" of recipes and other restricted information.

But with so much at stake, US officials argue that an independent inquiry – with the FBI having full access to Todd's two laptop computers now in Singapore police custody – is vital.

After meeting with Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, Singapore's visiting foreign minister, K. Shanmugam, vowed a full investigation and welcomed involvement by the Todds.

"There will be a public inquiry where all the relevant evidence will be presented," Mr. Shanmugam said, noting that the Todd family will be allowed to appoint their own lawyers and take part in the investigation.

Senator Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester (D), also of Montana, in March dialed up the pressure further by introducing legislation to halt all US research funding for IME unless the FBI is granted "full oversight" over a new investigation.

The Todds, who live in Montana, are hopeful. The family's own forensic analysis of their son's hard drive showed attempts to delete some files relating to the Huawei-IME partnership about three days after Shane's body was found, his parents say.

"Some of the recipes in Shane's possession weren't really supposed to be passed along with the sale of that machine," Rick Todd says. "So that's my guess, that's why they murdered him. I think it's pretty simple, really. Shane had the recipe – and he could have identified the people who were pressing him for it."


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