By Wes Venteicher
Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
---- — WASHINGTON — After Shane Todd, an engineer from Montana, was found hanging by the neck in an apartment in Singapore, police there quickly ruled the 31-year-old’s death a suicide, citing evidence including an apologetic note typed on his computer and a description of an elaborate pulley system the 6-foot-1 man allegedly used to hang himself from a bathroom door.
But when his parents visited his apartment a few days later, they found an external computer hard drive that they think tells a different story — one that suggests their son may have been inadvertently caught up in a plot to transfer sensitive technology to China. They say Todd told them in the weeks before he died that he feared for his life, and they do not believe he killed himself.
“He was murdered,” Mary Todd said in an interview.
Since their son died in June, Mary and Rick Todd have brought their case to Washington, getting Montana’s two senators, the FBI, the State Department and the Singapore Embassy involved and making his death an international issue.
“A lot of this doesn’t add up, and it seems a bit fishy,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said at a news conference on the death. “I have deep concerns about potential foul play, about a potential breach of national security. But I don’t have the facts yet, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions until I have the facts.”
Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., pressured Singapore into agreeing to cooperate with an independent FBI investigation. They have also introduced legislation to stop U.S. funding to the Institute for Microelectronics, or IME, the Singaporean government research firm where Shane Todd worked for 18 months.
Todd died the night after his last day of work at IME. He had been researching technologies involving gallium nitride, a semiconductor able to tolerate extreme heat and having commercial applications as well as military uses.
His parents said he had told them he suspected IME was engaged in activities that could threaten U.S. national security, including collaborating with Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications company that a congressional inquiry found to be a potential security threat.
Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said Singapore police would share with the FBI evidence they had been withholding. Shanmugam also said IME would be open to a U.S. audit of its activities.