A former UCLA professor contracted by the Department of Interior for work at the High Power Auroral Stimulation (HIPAS) research facility outside of Fairbanks, Alaska will plead guilty to defrauding the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the mid-2000s. Alfred Wong, 75, who holds a doctorate in plasma physics from Princeton University, will have to pay the government nearly $1.7 million as part of his punishment for fraud related to two government contracts, including one for work at HIPAS estimated at $25 million.
Wong's HIPAS contract began in 2003 and lasted until 2007. HIPAS was officially shut down in 2009, after conducting research on the ionosphere. UCLA had leased the University of Alaska Fairbanks facility since 1986. The work at the observatory often entailed heating the earth's ionosphere with a large radio wave transmitter, while other researchers watched the effects at the nearby Poker Flat Research Range.
Powerful HAARP steps in
HIPAS eventually gave way to the controversial High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility in Gakona, Alaska.
"HAARP was essentially based on what HIPAS was doing," said Charles Deehr, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "It was essentially a smaller version of HAARP ... an earlier version, much less powerful."
HAARP has been subject of much speculation, thanks to its funding provided in part by the U.S. military and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Conpiracy theories have raged about everything from earthquakes to mind control to worldwide weather manipulation stemming from the vast antenna array in remote Alaska.
But Deehr said the effects of HAARP are entirely benign.
"HAARP is doing a lot of good work, but people are afraid of things that they don't understand, so you get a lot of the business about HAARP down there (being dangerous)," Deehr said.
Deehr said that he'd had very little personal contact with Wong, but remembered his ideas as being "very creative."
In addition to Wong's $25 million contract awarded by the Department of Interior, DARPA was the other agency that awarded a contract to the researcher, this time in the amount of less than $1 million.
That DARPA contract certainly sounds worthy of donning a tinfoil hat. According to the plea agreement, that contract funded research on "the feasibility of a nano technology battery based upon radiation emitted from a radioactive isotope."
Wong's eventual guilty plea related in part from three organizations that he founded: the nonprofit International Foundation for Science, Health, and the Environment (ISFHE), and the for-profit companies Non-Linear Ion Dynamics, Inc. (NID) and Alfred Wong Technologies (AWT).
The bulk of the charges stem from goods, labor or materials provided from one of Wong's organizations to another.
The biggest offense related to two invoices from 2005 that each charged $80,000 from AWT to NID for goods manufactured, including "eight ultra-thin electrodes made of aluminum and gold with a copper rim." Unfortunately, AWT had nothing to do with the manufacture of those items. "AWT had no employees other than defendant, no manufacturing facilities, and expended no funds in the fabrication of these items," the plea agreement states.
And the actual cost for those ultra-thin electrodes? The costs of labor for experiments conducted by two NID employees and "a few hundred dollars in materials."
Wong also pulled similar stunts with the IFSHE contract with the Interior Department related to his work with HIPAS, at one point invoicing $29,000 -- purportedly for scientific equipment acquired by IFSHE from NID -- that was actually being used to purchase furniture for the companies' headquarters in California. He also fraudulently claimed travel expenses for a trip to Paris unrelated to his research at HIPAS.
Wong's tasks at HIPAS during his time there -- including a stint as director of the observatory -- included studying the effects of heating the ionosphere with radio waves and researching "communication effects of atoms in ionospheric dust."
The plea agreement states that between the two contracts, Wong defrauded the government out of nearly $200,000.
The popular technology publication Wired has followed Wong's career closely, including his idea to pump carbon dioxide ions directly into space, slowing the effects of global warming.
An article about his recent plea agreement also notes that Wong may have been the progenitor of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' idea that HAARP could eventually be used to harness current flowing through the aurora in order to provide power back on Earth. Wong denied that claim, though Stevens was long a proponent of the facility, as well as a congressional benefactor for the project.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com