Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Canadian scientist caught smuggling biomaterials into US

Posted by sanityinjection on May 13, 2009

Agence-France-Presse reports that Canadian scientist Konan Michel Yao was apprehended by US border authorities attempting to smuggle biological research materials into North Dakota.

The good news is that the materials Yao had with him proved to be harmless, and so far there is no evidence of involvement with terrorism. The better news is that if this had been a terrorist attempt to smuggle bioweapons, it would have been stopped. The Border Patrol should be commended for their vigilance in what is arguably the middle of nowhere.

Questions remain, however. If Yao’s materials were harmless, and if as he claims he was bringing them to his new lab in the US – why the bizarre method of transport – hidden in a glove in his trunk? Why not have them legally transported or simply acquire new stocks in Bethesda? Something doesn’t quite add up.

If this were an episode of the popular TV show “24”, it would turn out that Yao was attempting to swindle terrorists by selling them safe materials in the guise of bioagents, but then it would turn out that he’d made a mistake and the terrorists had actually obtained a real bioagent from him. The reality is likely to be far more mundane, and more idiotic. Probably Yao’s research would have been continued by someone else after he left, and he was unwilling to see someone else get the credit for whatever he’d worked on, so he decided to abscond with the materials.

Whatever happens to Yao, I hope that both US and Canadian authorities can agree that he should never be allowed to work on anything even remotely sensitive ever again.


15 Responses to “Canadian scientist caught smuggling biomaterials into US”

  1. I Just saw this mew and to be honest, I don’t think that it should be a big issue.
    The guy was moving to a new lab. I think it’s normal for him to go with his staff, no matter how he transports it.
    Now, he has benn caught for smuggling bio materials, which are harmless.
    We know why he is moving, we know his activity and his qualification.
    He shouldn’t be put in jail. There is no wrong doing

    • tomsyl said

      Break the law, go to jail. The rule in the US, though apparently not in Canada, where you think it is “normal” for people to steal biological samples and smuggle them into another country. I hope he gets a stiff jail sentence followed by permanent deportation.

      As far as the ebola material being “harmless”, how do you know that? Because the clowns in the lab he stole it from said so? has it occurred to you that both governments may be playing this down intentionally to avoid panic, and pressure to take greater steps to secure the Canadian border with the US?

  2. sanityinjection said

    I’m not a research scientist, but I’ve dated enough of them to know that there are all kinds of protocols associated with moving from one lab to another. You don’t just throw your stuff in your trunk. And it’s not clear at all that the materials in question were Yao’s personal property – more likely they belong to the lab in Canada where he worked, in which case Canadian authorities could charge him with larceny.

    I would probably agree that jail might not be necessary, but probation and a significant fine would be appropriate.

  3. What i’m saying that they should not make this looks like a serious problem. The guy needed his work to carry on his researches.
    Is he a terrorist? No
    Were the 22 vials dangerous? No
    Why did he leave Winnipeg? Because he has got a new job in a lab in USA.

    Is there any link between what he was doing and what he is supposed to start in his future activity? Yes.

    What about his new lab?
    Did he tell them that he was bringing his stuff from his old lab?
    Why they didn’t inform him about what should be done to ensure the tansportation of his working material?

    • tomsyl said

      How do you know he is not a terrorist? He was only recently apprehended and still is being investigated. You seem to theink he is just an innocent worker dedicated to the good of humanity. Here is what he did to try to smuggle in the ebola material: “Yao was carrying unidentified biological materials in vials wrapped in aluminum foil inside a glove, wrapped in a plastic bag in the trunk of his car, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Mike Milne told Reuters.”
      And your explanation for this is what? That his new employer had an obligation to tell him not to take stolen biological material, hide it in a foil-wrapped glove and then attempt to smuggle it into the US?

      That hardly sounds innocent to me. I hope he gets a long jail term before being permanently deported back to your country. You can keep him; Canadial criminals shouldn’t get refuge in the US.

  4. kouamé hyacinthe said

    Les administrations canadienne et américaine interdissent-elles à un chercheur qui part d’un laboratoire à un autre de ne pas partir avec le résultat de ses recherches? Il part parce qu’il a obtenu un autre boulot. Le matériel transporté à été vérifié, et n’est pas dangeraux. Je pense qu’il n’a pas lieu de polémiquer. Qu’on laisse ce scientifique poursuivre ses travaux pour le bien-être de l’humanité.

    • tomsyl said

      How do you know the vials were “n’est pas dangeraux”? Bevaue the incompetent idiots running the lab he stole them from said so? Or because people in the US wanting to avoid an issue regardin border security said so? Perhaps Mr. Yao can continue to do his “travaux pour le bien-être de l’humanité” in canada after he serves a jail rterm and is then deported back to your country.

  5. To speak frankly, this’s a waste of time and money.
    They better release Doctor YAO KONAN MICHEL; give him the right to finish his work on hiv and EBOLA

    • tomsyl said

      How about if he finishes that work in Canada instead of the US? That way, if he steals stuff from the lab where he works, he won’t have to smuggle it into another country; he can just leave the vials laying around on a table in a coffee shop in Montreal.

  6. sanityinjection said

    It sounds to me like someone has a more than casual interest in this matter – perhaps defending a countryman? In any case, it seems clear your views are motivated by something other than logic. To suggest that controlling the borders of our nation against the deliberate inflitration of unknown substances is “a waste of time and money” is at best ignorance, at worst tantamount to abetting terrorism.

    Whatever his motivations, it is obvious that Dr. Yao wanted to keep his transport of these materials undetected. That suggests that he either knew or suspected he was doing something he shouldn’t. Sadly, it is not uncommon for scientists to steal from their own laboratories in the mistaken belief that they are the personal owners of materials paid for by taxpayers through government grants.

    What is even more disturbing is the suggestion from both anglophone and francophone commenters that any infractions should be ignored because of the importance of Ebola research. That pernicious doctrine of “the ends justify the means” is particularly creepy when tied to medical research – lest we forget the notorious medical experiments on Holocaust victims and unsuspecting US military personnel. Instead of reacting emotionally, I would suggest you prenez un moment, s’il vous plait, pour penser si vous voulez adopter cette philosophie.

    (Je suis desole que mon francais est tres mal, sans doute.)

    • tomsyl said

      Precisely so; the best evidence that Yao knew he was commtting a crime is that he tried to smuggle in the vials. the same people claiming he is doing “important research” (we have no way of verifying that) should realize that Ebola-related research is important precisely because the virus is so lethal. And for all of those buying the official line that the biological material in the vials was “harmless”, I suppose then that you wouldn’t mind having a few of them sitting on your dining room table for your children to play with, correct?

      • sanityinjection said

        You make a good point. I admit I hadn’t considered the possibility that the feds may be downplaying the severity of the incident. Though it seems like if the Border Patrol had caught Yao with something nasty, they’d be more likely to make a big deal out of it to prove that the government is keeping Americans safe.

  7. Sister Benedict said

    Blame Canada!

  8. sanityinjection said

    Update: Latest version of the news story confirms the vials were stolen from the Canadian laboratory by Yao, which he acknowledges. That would make them the property of the lab, which I’m guessing is a government operation. So my guess was correct – a scientist who tried to make his government-funded work into his own private property. In fact, if Yao’s intention was for the vials to become part of his new lab, which is a US government operation, Canada could conceivably charge Yao with sabotage/espionage on behalf of a foreign power.

  9. mike wolfe said

    yao should not be locked up… he is a good christan man and was not taking them to do that terrisom stuff. i was in jail with him i had long talks with him about it and he took them because he wanted to keep them for his next job and as a suvineere. they were hamless and he was working on a vaccine for YOU for US for EVERYONE!!!

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