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August 28, 2008 

Chinese Graduate Student Takes the Stand in Roth Trial

The Knoxville News Sentinel continues their coverage of the trial of University of Tennessee Professor J. Reece Roth who is accused of violating the Arms Export Control Act by providing technical data to a Chinese national in the United States. Yesterday's main witness for the prosecution was Mr. Xin Dai, the Chinese graduate student at the center of the controversy. An Iranian graduate student also took the stand.

According to the indictment, Mr. Dai was a citizen of China who held a F-1 visa while living in Knoxville, Tennessee and was enrolled as a graduate student studying for a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering with the University of Tennessee College of Engineering. Mr. Dai was also employed by the University of Tennessee College of Engineering as a Graduate Research Assistant and Graduate Teaching Assistant from August 2002 to August 2006, during which time he worked under the supervision of Professor Roth, Director of the University of Tennessee Plasma Sciences Laboratory . In May 2005, Roth assigned Dai to work on the government contract for the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The article reports:

"At the time, I had no idea what export control data was," he told jurors in U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan's courtroom.

Xin said Roth was considered a plasma-researching rock star in China.

"In China, he has a very prestigious reputation," Xin said. "It was a dream for me coming here. … I came here primarily because of Dr. Roth."

Xin testified that he knew there were supposed to be limitations on his involvement in the military project, including being barred from conducting tests on the drone itself.

"Were you allowed to go to AGT?" Theodore asked Xin.

"No, I don't think so," he said.

Roth took him to AGT anyway to meet with employees about a "breakthrough" in the work, Xin said. Roth also instructed Xin to send a report to a Chinese professor via e-mail, a report that the government contends contained information about the project while Roth was himself at Fudan University in Shanghai. Roth cited e-mail problems as the cause for having the document sent to the Fudan professor, Xin testified.

* * *

But Xin still praised Roth from the witness stand Wednesday.

"I admire him," Xin said. "This is what Dr. Roth told me to do - tell the truth. He said the purpose of scientific research is truth."

Iranian graduate student Sirous Nourgostar, who prosecutors also allege Roth illegally allowed access to project information, testified that Roth offered him similar advice.

"He told me to tell the truth or they would send me back to Iran," Nourgostar testified.

Neither Xin nor Nourgostar have been indicted.

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