Singapore mystery: Couple finds a national audience for son’s story

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A Marion couple seeking the truth about their son’s mysterious death last June in Singapore are making the rounds in the national media circuit in an effort to draw attention to the international case — and action from the U.S. government.

Rick and Mary Todd’s 31-year-old son, Shane, an electronics engineer, was found hanging from a bathroom door in what was deemed an apparent suicide by the Singapore police.

He had confided to his parents he was worried his work was jeopardizing U.S. national security. Just before he was ready to leave Singapore, he was found dead.

The incongruous details supplied by authorities didn’t add up and the Todds immediately were suspicious. They allege he was murdered because his employers in Singapore were using him to help China get its hands on sensitive technology that could harm U.S. national security.

Shane was working for the Institute for Micro Electronics, part of a Singapore state agency, and was heading a team developing advanced technologies based on gallium nitride, a semiconductor considered superior to silicon.

A small hard drive the Todds found at their son’s apartment — information inadvertently left behind by police who confiscated Shane’s computers, cellphone and diary — detailed plans for a project that involved the institute and Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies.

After begging the national media for months to tell their story and get the U.S. government to investigate, the Todds finally have the government’s attention.

In recent days their son’s death has been detailed in reports by USA Today, CNN, Fox News and other media outlets. The Todds were scheduled to be featured on the “Today” show this week.

Since the intriguing case was thrust into the limelight, several news agencies reported the Singapore police agreed to allow the FBI to help them investigate the death. However, a Washington Times article this week noted that Rick Todd said the FBI was now “handcuffed” from launching a proper investigation in Singapore.

When the Singapore police asked the bureau to act, it was only to recover two pieces of evidence believed to be in the United States, the Times article said. Shane’s hard drive is one of the pieces of evidence Singapore authorities want, along with a decade-old psychological evaluation Shane underwent at graduate school after suffering from stress, the article further noted.

Montana Sen. Max Baucus met with the Todds on Friday and set up a meeting for them with the State Department. On Tuesday, Baucus met with the Singaporean ambassador to the United States.

Baucus spokeswoman Kathy Weber said the senator had staff from his finance committee on the ground in Singapore two weeks ago and they discussed the case with the U.S. embassy and top Singaporean officials.

Baucus also has weighed in with top officials at the White House to make sure the case is “on their radar,” Weber said.

The senator issued a statement, saying “the Todds’ incredible love for their son and commitment to justice is nothing short of inspiring.

“I saw it in their eyes, and that’s what is driving me to do everything in my power to make sure no stone is left unturned in this case. We have to get to the bottom of this. The family — and the American people — deserve answers,” Baucus said.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester also met with the ambassador on Tuesday. During an interview with the Daily Inter Lake two weeks ago, the Todds said Tester also has been supportive and in touch with top officials. Their goal is to prompt a full congressional investigation into Shane’s death.

Shane’s employer sent him to New York in January 2012 for training at Veeco, which makes equipment used to develop gallium nitride technology.

Gallium nitride is most commonly used in LED lighting, to produce high-intensity light without much heat or energy use. The material is also used on wafers similar to silicon chips to power electronic devices, but with much greater efficiency and intensity.

The information gleaned from Shane’s hard drive indicated Veeco said it wouldn’t directly transfer its recipes, but that IME had directed Shane to copy the recipe.

Another portion of the institute memo stated “Any potential connection with Huawei would be problematic for Veeco and for IME because Huawei has been deemed a security risk by powerful U.S. lawmakers.”

Quartz, a digital business news outlet, noted this week that selling Veeco’s equipment abroad requires an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, but that equipment alone isn’t enough.

“A proprietary formula — akin to the recipe for baking a cake using Veeco’s oven — is the difference between generating a power-saving LED lightbulb and a next-generation military radar component,” Quartz reporter Adam Pasick wrote. “That recipe, which would have involved Todd, IME, Veeco and possibly the Chinese electronics giant Huawei, is at the crux of the case.”

In addition to wanting the truth about why their son died, the Todds also want his death to be a warning to other bright and ambitious professionals working in the global marketplace.

Mary Todd, a Baptist minister who leads church services in an airplane hangar at the Todds’ Marion home, keeps the story out front on her Facebook page.

“Shane is truly one of my most cherished gifts,” she posted recently. “I will go to the end of the earth to find justice for my son and answers for our country.”

In another Facebook post, she said: “Thank you for continuing on this excruciating journey of faith with us. Everyday more and more comes out about our beloved Shane.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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