A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, Yifei "Philip" Chu, 57, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, was charged on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, with \ making false statements concerning his contacts with the Taiwanese Navy and falsifying records in a federal investigation related to his application for a security clearance. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher is behind bars in Michigan, charged with lying to federal officials about his contacts with the Taiwanese military and falsifying records in a probe tied to his application for a security clearance to work on a US Navy project overseas.
Yifei “Philip” Chu, 57, was booked into jail by the Washtenaw Corrections Division in Ann Arbor at 8:10 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24, according to incarceration records. No attorney is listed for him in jail or court records.
Assigned to the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ypsilanti, Chu is a supervisory physical scientist who specializes in forecasting tides and currents. Between 2008 and 2015, he served as a Naval Research Laboratory oceanographer at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where he developed air-ocean-wave forecast models for the maritime service.
The Navy relies on that sort of expertise to conduct missions in coastal and semi-enclosed seas. Models that forecast water levels, currents, and temperature support fleet navigation and diver and mine-warfare operations.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Chu entered the FBI’s radar after applying in late 2020 for a three-year assignment to the US Embassy in Singapore as the detailed science director for the Navy’s Office of Naval Research Global.
On May 1, 2008, a special warfare combatant craft crewman assigned to Special Boat Team 22 scans the shoreline during a training exercise along Mississippi’s Pearl River. Special operators like him rely on US Navy oceanography models that aid navigation in littoral areas. US Navy photo.
To land that gig, however, Chu needed to read classified data, and federal agents said he lied three times during his applications to renew his “secret” security classification in 2021 and early 2022: once on his Standard Form 86, again when interviewed under oath by background investigators, and a third time when he signed an affidavit affirming the information he provided.
In the indictment, investigators claimed Chu lied to hide his “extensive contacts with members of the Taiwanese Navy” and an unnamed Taiwanese company that hired him in 2016 to consult on a classified project there.
According to the FBI, the consulting he provided for the Taiwanese Navy mirrored the work he performed as a Navy oceanographer before he joined the NOAA.
Born in Taipei, Chu became a naturalized US citizen in 2008 and received a “secret” clearance to work on the US Navy’s projects in Mississippi.
In a sworn statement, he claimed to have destroyed his Taiwanese passport and renounced his citizenship there, but FBI agents claimed he remained a Taiwanese citizen and had bought and sold property there.
Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen from Special Boat Team 22 operate special operations craft-riverine at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on Jan. 8, 2016. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird.
In fact, he lived in Taiwan for 11 months straddling 2020 and 2021, which the NOAA apparently didn’t realize, and he obtained a new Taiwanese passport for his recent travels there, the complaint states.
NOAA officials have not responded to Coffee or Die Magazine‘s messages seeking comment about that, but Chu’s indictment reveals they believed he had been working remotely from his Michigan home during those years.
On April 6, 2021, federal officials provisionally greenlighted Chu’s hiring for the Singapore mission, with a final determination promised once he received his clearance.
Chu’s indictment details multiple contacts with an unnamed Taiwan University professor and retired and active Taiwanese Navy officials for an oceanographic modeling project he presented in 2017 at the naval headquarters in Kaohsiung.
FBI agents said Chu had disclosed only his mandatory Taiwanese military service from 1985 to 1987 — where he worked as a sergeant assigned to the K9 handler center — not his extensive contacts with naval officials there between 2016 and 2021.
The US Navy’s Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Antietam sails near People’s Liberation Army Navy ships in the Taiwan Strait on Aug. 28, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Santiago Navarro.
On Aug. 6, 2022, an FBI stakeout at Chicago O’Hare International Airport allegedly caught Chu admitting to a US Customs and Border Protection agent that he held dual citizenship with Taiwan as he presented his Taiwanese passport before boarding a flight to Taipei.
The US enjoys cordial relations with Taiwan, an island nation that remains separated from the mainland People’s Republic of China.
Federal prosecutors unsealed Chu’s indictment in Michigan a day after officials in Washington, DC, charged a pair of mainland Chinese men they said were spies with allegedly trying to obtain classified US documents tied to a probe into telecommunications giant Huawei.
Another 11 alleged Chinese operatives were targeted in the federal investigation, including intelligence officers working as illegal agents in the US and seven Chinese nationals who are accused of threatening and harassing a US resident to return to China.
If convincted on both charges, NOAA’s Chu faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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