Chapter Four: Chung's Way
(The Secret War on William Pierce)
In June 1955, about a month after an unsettling talk about Communism and government surveillance with Lilian Hartwell, a new boarder at his home in Syracuse, Bill Pierce attended a Saturday evening cocktail party in town. Students and faculty members were there, including Math Department Chairman Kibbey and Kai Lai Chung, a professor and probability expert who introduced himself to Pierce as the son of a Taiwanese official.
Kai Lai Chung was no typical member of the Syracuse faculty. Pierce had no way of knowing it, but he was from Hangzhou, a right-wing Kuomintang stronghold until the People's Liberation Army invaded the city and placed it under Communist control on May 3, 1949.
At that point the group, known as KMT, retreated to the island of Taiwan. There they used brutal tactics against suspected communists and developed a secret police force to conduct surveillance of political opponents. It continued as the ruling party on Taiwan until reforms instituted from the late 1970s through the 1990s gradually loosened its grip.
Chung entered Tsinghua University in 1936, a well-connected 19-year-old who initially studied physics. In 1940, he graduated from the Department of Mathematics of National Southwestern Associated University, where he subsequently worked as a teaching assistant. During this period, he studied number theory with Lo-Keng Hua.
Hua had produced some important work while at Cambridge University, establishing his fame in the international math community. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, he chose to return to China, where he was appointed full professor at Tsinghua even though he lacked a degree. With much of China under Japanese occupation Tsinghua, Peking, and Nankai University had merged into the Southwest Associated University in Kunming, capital of the southern province Yunnan. Despite his academic isolation during the war years, Hua produced some first-rate mathematics.
After Japan bombed Changsha, the remaining staff, faculty and students at Tsinghua fled a thousand miles to China's remote and mountainous southwest and joined with others to create the National Southwest Associated University, known as Lianda. For the next eight years, they worked in makeshift quarters that were often subjected to bombing campaigns by the Imperial Japanese forces. Despite shortages of food, equipment, books, clothing and other essentials they nevertheless ran a modern university, making Lianda University famous nationwide for producing and hosting most of China's prominent academics, scholars, scientists and intellectuals.
One of the most promising students was Chung, who was ultimately chosen in 1944 for the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program, a highly competitive, US-funded project that brought Chinese talent to America. Chung arrived at Princeton in December 1945 and obtained his Ph.D. there two years later. His dissertation, “On the maximum partial sum of sequences of independent random variables,” was written under the supervision of John Wilder Tukey and Harald Cramér.
Cramér, a Swedish mathematician and actuary who specialized in statistics and probabilistic number theory, was Chung’s Ph.D. advisor. Math chair at Stockholm University at that time, Cramer was also the first Swedish professor of Actuarial Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. In 1950, he became President of Stockholm University.
More intriguing was Chung’s other advisor, John W. Tukey, who helped to design the first H-bomb. The program was headed by his friend John Wheeler. In 1945, John von Neumann had enlisted Tukey for a computer development project funded by the Defense Department. Mathematicians were essential to the development of nuclear weapons, especially to test the feasibility of a design through calculations.
Within a decade Tukey’s promising protégé Chung had taught at some of the leading US schools, moving between University of Chicago, Columbia, UC-Berkeley and Cornell University. In short, Chung had traveled in elite academic circles for years, a loyal anti-Communist who had benefited from those connections. Arriving at Syracuse University, he made contact with another, very different mathematician -- Bill Pierce.
Shortly after Pierce accepted a drink from Chung at that off-campus party in Syracuse, he began to experience extreme effects. “I felt that I was going to pass out,” he told me. “The next day I was too sick to move, with severe pain in my jaw and head.” The landlady was away, but the overly solicitous Mrs. Lilian Hartwell brought him breakfast and medicine.
“I managed to teach my classes, but for the rest of the term my mind was hazy, as though from an anesthetic,” Pierce said. “It would be nearly five years before I discovered what had happened, and almost ten before I could prove it.”
What exactly was he alleging? And more important, could he prove it? Basically, Pierce claimed that Chung had drugged his drink, knocking him out and setting the stage for “auditory harassment” through a miniature transmitter implanted to replace a filling in one of his teeth.
It sounded highly unlikely, more likely delusional – that is, until Pierce opened his briefcase and pulled out correspondence with the chief of the Physical Sciences Division of the Department of the Army, a page from Dental Abstracts, and a US Air Force report titled, “Application of Miniaturized Electronic Devices to the Study of Tooth Contact in Complete Dentures.”
The response from the Army official said yes, it was possible to hear voices or radio programs through tooth fillings “because of the various materials used in fillings together with accidental ingestion of other particles near the fillings, and the subsequent chance of rectification of signals generated by strong radio waves.” Of course, this wasn’t conclusive. But a notice in Dental Abstracts added another piece to the puzzle with this announcement:
“A radio receiver smaller than half a sugar cube has been developed by U.S. Army electronics engineers who say it easily can be further miniaturized. Besides being tiny, a significant feature of this short-wave superheterodyne is its variable tuning.” In other words, the Pierce's claim wasn’t unreasonable: the intelligence community could actually have a tiny, tunable short-wave receiver the size of a tooth.
Still, could it be implanted in someone’s mouth? The Air Force report indicated that this had already been done with dentures, mainly to study tooth contact. One photo showed a tiny transmitter with a diameter less than the average tooth.
The intelligence community even had a street name for this type of harassment device – shark-bite.