20 March 2013

Shane Todd's Death — US Senators' Naïveté

Background
On 24 June 2012, the body of Shane Todd, an electronics engineer from the US, was found hanging in his apartment in Singapore.  Police said it was suicide, but Mr Todd's parents believe he was murdered and want to know if a project he was working on had anything to do with his death.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, who was on a previously scheduled trip to the US to meet Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder, met US senator Max Baucus of Montana, where the Todds live, at Mr Baucus's request.  Mr Shanmugam pledged to share evidence with US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Baucus-Tester Amendment
Mr Baucus and his fellow senator Jon Tester then introduced the following amendment to the Continuing Resolution to fund the US government that is being debated:

"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by... this Act may be made available... to the Institute for Microelectronics... unless the Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have submitted a certification to Congress that the Government of Singapore has allowed Federal law enforcement from the United States to access all records and evidence relating to the death of Shane Todd... and the subsequent investigation."[1]

Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Response
The response of Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 17 March 2013 was:

"We are deeply disappointed by the Senators' actions and statements.  The Senators had requested the FBI to be given 'full access' to all the evidence in the investigation conducted by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) over the case, based on the version of the facts provided by the family alone.  The SPF so far has refrained from publicising the information they have gathered because investigations are ongoing, after which there will be a public Coroner's Inquiry where all the facts will be laid out to determine the cause of Mr Todd's death.

"In the spirit of cooperation and openness, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam met Senator Baucus in Washington DC on 12 March 2013, and told the Senator that the SPF was prepared to share relevant evidence with the FBI in accordance with the legal framework of both countries.  The Minister reiterated this at a press conference after the meeting.  The SPF has also publicly committed to take into account any information and evidence that the FBI may independently gather.  The SPF will ensure that all information is comprehensively examined and scrutinized during its investigation, and have done so through foreign experts and in this case, the FBI.  The SPF will continue to work with the FBI to engage the Todd family to get their co-operation and assistance for the on-going investigation."[2]
 
Financial Assistance
According to Mr Tester, IME received nearly US$500,000 in sub-grants in 2010 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the US Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military.[1]
 
DARPA was established to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting US national security and create strategic surprise for US adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the US military.[3]

DARPA relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research.  Its scientific investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of full-scale technology demonstrations in the fields of biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neurosciences etc.[3]

The funding that IME received from DARPA in 2010 was not an act of generosity on the part of DARPA.

Advances in miniaturisation have led to the increasing adoption of microsystems in a wide array of applications.  Continued miniaturisation impacts the assembly of the components, the integration of passive components and overall system performance.  To address these challenges, DARPA funded a research collaboration between IME and University of Washington's Department of Electrical Engineering.[4]

IME provided expertise in the development, simulation and early stage fabrication for these developments, while University of Washington contributed lab-scale process development and theoretical analysis on the parallel assembly technique project and review with guidance consultation on the rest.[4]
 
Mr Baucus and Mr Tester are mistaken if they believe that DARPA funded IME in 2010 for IME's or Singapore's benefit alone.

It is not clear to what extent the US government has funded IME other than the US$500,000, but Mr Baucus and Mr Tester are mistaken if they believe that IME needs any funding from the US government, and the threat of withholding funding will somehow change Singapore's behaviour.

US Political Culture
Candidates for US Congress (such as Mr Baucus and Mr Tester) have to raise campaign money, collect signatures to get their names on the ballot, and personally appeal to registered voters of their party in primary elections.  Thus, local issues may be as important as, or sometimes more important than, national issues to individual congressmen.  In contrast, in parliamentary democracies (such as those in the UK, Australia and Singapore), the party controls which candidates should run, and actually puts their names on the ballot.
This may explain why Mr Baucus and Mr Tester resorted to adding the amendment in order to show that they have the interest of their electorate at heart.

They may be labouring under the mistaken impression that Singapore will somehow bow to US pressure.

Singapore as a Friend and Ally
Singapore has been an outstanding friend and ally of the US for many years, said President Obama.[5]

The Baucus-Tester amendment is a bizarre way to treat an outstanding friend and ally of the US.

It appears that neither Mr Baucus nor Mr Tester understands diplomacy.

Outcome
The Todds should wonder whether the actions of Mr Baucus and Mr Tester, including but not limited to the Baucus-Tester amendment, were in their best interest.
 
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Notes
 
1. JON TESTER Tester, Baucus: No U.S. Taxpayer Dollars to Singapore Company until FBI has Full Access to Investigate American's Death www.tester.senate,gov 14 Mar 2013.
 
2. MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS MFA Spokesman's Comments in Response to Media Queries on US Senators' Introduction of an Amendment to Block US Funding to the Institute of Microelectronics 17 Mar 2013.

3. DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY Our Work www.darpa.mil/ our_work.

4. INSTITUTE OF MICROELECTRONICS Darpa Funds Partnership between Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics and University Of Washington for Triple Boost to Miniaturisation Efforts 23 Dec 2010.

5. THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY Remarks by President Obama and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore before Meeting 29 Oct 2009.

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