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A "suicide," GaN semiconductors, a found hard drive, China, intrigue
February 19, 2013 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Death in Singapore 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.
posted by donovan (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 


I've read enough gritty cyberpunk to see the obvious.
posted by Windopaene at 9:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


related: Huawei denies work in field linked to U.S. death in Singapore
posted by gen at 9:37 AM on February 19 [1 favorite +] [!]


The article actually says that Huawei denies working with Singapore's Institute of Microelectronics in that particular specialist field. Assuming they're telling the truth, Huawei could still be working in that specialist field, either on their own or with a Singapore team from elsewhere, and they could be working with the Institute of Microelectronics on other projects in adjacent fields at the same time.
posted by Bwithh at 9:47 AM on February 19, 2013


I've read enough gritty cyberpunk to see the obvious.

Huawei amplifiers now come with courtesy Chinese eavesdropping systems?
posted by slater at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2013


The ambassador offered some information that, in turn, surprised the Todds. He said the FBI in Singapore had pushed hard to investigate. He said the FBI offered its assistance, notably in forensics, twice but the Singapore police refused it. The FBI in Washington confirmed that the agency had tried to help. “The United States has offered FBI assistance to the Government of Singapore on the Shane Todd case and has engaged in frequent discussions with the Government of Singapore regarding Shane’s death,” read a statement sent to the FT.

Sheezy. That's got to mean something, when the FBI is begging to investigate a case.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Among other things, sure...
posted by Windopaene at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2013


when the FBI is begging to investigate a case.

... and the other government is stonewalling.
posted by Malor at 10:28 AM on February 19, 2013


The notes were surprising, she said later. One praised IME and its management. Another apologised for being a burden to his family. Neither sounded like Shane.
HAHAHAHAHAA what!? Why would anyone be that stupid, or arrogant? You're going to try to murder someone, make it look like a suicide and then add a fake suicide praising yourself? That takes balls. Almost makes me wonder if someone isn't trying to frame them.

Also, the topics don't sound culturally plausible. It's hard to imagine most Americans even bothering to mention their employer in a suicide not unless it's to bitch about them, whereas there is the stereotype of people taking identity as a corporate employee more seriously in Asian countries. And the burden to the family thing doesn't seem like the kind of thing someone like this would have written.
The Todds therefore asked the mortuary to photo­graph Shane’s body, in the coffin, and they sent those snapshots to a pathologist recommended by a family member. Dr Edward H. Adelstein, chief of pathology at the Harry S. Truman Veterans Hospital in Missouri ... He also said the neck wounds did not look like injuries from a suicide but indicated a rapid death. He suggested a scenario far different to that outlined by the Singapore authorities: Shane fought an attacker and died by a garrotting.
Yeah, that's pretty damning.

However, I don't think you can say that the Singapore government is necessarily trying to cover this up. It was initially ruled a suicide, but now they say the investigation is ongoing.

Imagine if the situation was reversed and you were a police officer in Canada. A Chinese Citizen, working for a subcontractor to a company that also works for the US military turns up dead in an apparent suicide. And the Chinese Government says it wants to help with the investigation and get a look at the victims computer. Would you let them?

The problem for the Singapore police is that if this case really does involve international subterfuge between the US and China, then you can't rule out any party. And also, letting the FBI have access to the laptop could potentially mean giving them sensitive information about what China is doing - which is not their job (Just like it wouldn't be the Canadian police's job to help China find out what the US is doing).

As far as not keeping the parents in the loop, unfortunately it's not something you can really do. Suppose they do think the Chinese or someone are involved, you would have to expect that any information you pass on to the parents could be intercepted.

That's not to say they're not corrupt. It's entirely possible. Singapore obviously does a lot more business with China then with the U.S. In terms of raw numbers, they do about twice as much trade with HK and the rest of China combined as with the US in total, but other then that there are going to be a lot more social interlinking between elites in China and those in Singapore compared to Singapore and the US.

Anyway, interesting story.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2013


I thought this story was so poorly written it made me think it probably was just suicide. The worst line in that story was where the girlfriend says he can't have committed suicide, she's a nurse, she would have been able to see it coming.

“I’m a nurse,” she said. “I should know if somebody is suicidal.” Right after explaining that yea he was super stressed, so stressed he had actually just taken up religion again, and “He said there were things he had done that could get him in trouble with the US government,” and of course the guilt of knowing that he had probably just given away military secrets to China wouldn't drive anyone to suicide.

Even this: "some work colleagues said Shane had been particularly upbeat on his last day at IME." Isn't that a classic marker of someone who has been depressed and has made the decision to end it? Even the timing of right when he moves, when he's getting rid of all his stuff, has a good excuse to have farewell parties and tell everyone how much they meant to him - excellent way to mask the impending suicide. Did he give anyone any gifts before he died?

I have no idea if it was suicide or not, but I give zero credence to someone saying 'my son/boyfriend/best friend would never have done that! I would have known!'
posted by jacalata at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If his girlfriend found the body, couldn't she tell the family whether it was hanging in the way the police had described? And if the toilet was where it should be?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2013


Huawei amplifiers now come with courtesy Chinese eavesdropping systems?

In Communist China, loudspeakers listen to you.

(I'll show myself out.)
posted by spacely_sprocket at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know myself well enough to know that I would never kill myself. So I've taken the liberty of telling quite a few people that if I ever commit suicide, someone is covering up murder.

Maybe I should also write an anti-suicide note... notes seem to be a Thing with suicide. :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2013


I thought this story was so poorly written it made me think it probably was just suicide. The worst line in that story was where the girlfriend says he can't have committed suicide, she's a nurse, she would have been able to see it coming.
Did you read the part where the pathologist said it looked like he was garroted? Or the fact that he left a "suicide note" praising his employer, Something that A) no American would do and B) he told everyone he hated before he died?

I was starting to think the same thing at first – unfortunately the article kind of buries the most damning evidence, rather then putting it up front.
Even this: "some work colleagues said Shane had been particularly upbeat on his last day at IME." Isn't that a classic marker of someone who has been depressed and has made the decision to end it? Even the timing of right when he moves, when he's getting rid of all his stuff, has a good excuse to have farewell parties and tell everyone how much they meant to him - excellent way to mask the impending suicide. Did he give anyone any gifts before he died?
So accepting the $150,000 a year job at another company, and emailing his new employers detailed questions was just a cover so he could kill himself? And why would he have killed himself in the middle of moving all his stuff?

Seriously, did you actually read the whole article?
posted by delmoi at 3:08 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The story the authors of the article lay out sounds like a spy thriller:

Huawei wants to get into the gallium nitride field, but is blocked by US export restrictions. So they partner with the IME, in the somewhat less alarming nation of Singapore. IME hires Shane Todd, an American scientist, for the express purpose of going to New York and dealing with Veeco, an American company. Veeco is willing to sell IME the equipment they need, but they won't give away their "best known method recipes" to use it, because of those export restrictions. They will, however, train Mr. Todd on the equipment, and if he happens to learn any recipes in the process... well, that's the way it goes. Wink, wink.

So Todd learns how to use the equipment with, presumably, some of the most cutting-edge recipes available. He brings everything back to Singapore and starts to work on developing the transistor there. He still doesn't know he's done anything wrong - but when officials from Huawei visit, they stupidly give him the mushroom treatment, engaging in extended conversations with their Singaporean colleagues in Mandarin and leaving him out of the loop. He begins to understand his part in the scheme to circumvent US law and becomes increasingly distressed. Eventually he tells IME that he's going to quit, but agrees to stay on for thirty days so he can train someone else to use the equipment.

Flash forward to a week before he was scheduled to come home. Someone (and I'm totally speculating here), maybe from Huawei, discovers that Todd has been copying his work files onto his home computer. There's a meltdown. Panic. Why didn't anybody check this guy out before? He could sell the gallium nitride doping formula to Nuvotronics, or maybe go to the US embassy and reveal everything. They have no idea. So they send an unknown party to Todd's apartment to look for evidence. Maybe they knew he would be home, and maybe they didn't. But the end result is a fight, the unknown party overpowers and garrotes him, then does a quick search of his computer. And five days later, someone with access to the crime scene does the same thing.

Is that what happened? Who knows. It's certainly a compelling story, but that satisfying quality to it, the way it rings true, is probably a sign that part or all of the narrative is fiction. Real life just isn't that satisfying, and there's no evidence for any of it that would stand up in a court of law. It's hard to believe that a young man with a bright future would decide to kill himself with no warning, but it happens every day, all over the world. The very senselessness of the act is what drives us to find meaning, or manufacture it where none can be found.

I'm sorry that Shane Todd is dead. He sounds like a man that could have gone on to do great things, and it's awful to think about him dying in that apartment so far from home. Hopefully the authorities and his parents will find out the truth of what happened. But it won't be satisfying, because nothing they discover will ever bring him back.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I read it a couple of times before it turned up here. Right down to accepting a job in another country, it matches my own "if I was going to" plans far too closely for me to find it far fetched in the least, honestly.

I did notice the bit where one pathologist said that the photos looked like he was garrotted, and the other one said that the body looked like it was hung. So that's not evidence either way until you've decided to accept one story in the first place.
posted by jacalata at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2013


The most compelling piece of evidence for me is the suicide note. Very few Americans would write this nonsense about being a "burden on the family". It's a typical Asian cultural trope, something an inept Huawei agent might have come up with.
posted by xdvesper at 6:13 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


They have no idea. So they send an unknown party to Todd's apartment to look for evidence. Maybe they knew he would be home, and maybe they didn't. But the end result is a fight, the unknown party overpowers and garrotes him, then does a quick search of his computer. And five days later, someone with access to the crime scene does the same thing.
Dude what? You don't fucking unintentionally have someone assassinated. He's dead because whoever is responsible for this wanted him wanted him dead. If they just wanted to look at his hard drive they could have done so while he was at work. If you hire someone to break into someone's house and look at their files "oh and by the way don't kill them, then try to make it look like a suicide by forging an obviously bogus suicide note" isn't something you really even need to say - it's kind of implied.

The whole thing is rather sloppy -- the suicide notes especially so -- why not hire someone more familiar with US culture to write them? But then again, it might take a lot of talent to run a semiconductor company, but there's no reason to think that prepares you for the murder business.
posted by delmoi at 3:00 AM on February 20, 2013


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