Is racial bias to blame for the high number of Asian Americans charged with espionage?

(From LA Times)

By George Koo, Daniel Olmos

In recent years, federal prosecutors have brought a number of high-profile criminal cases against Asian Americans accused of economic espionage or theft of trade secrets. Announced with great fanfare, many of these cases later collapsed.

Is it possible that these prosecutions were driven — at least in part — by racial profiling rather than solid evidence? Last year, more than 40 members of Congress sent a letter to Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch asking that question. The Justice Department has not yet responded, but last month it adopted a new policy requiring experienced national security prosecutors in Washington, instead of local U.S. attorneys, to oversee all espionage-related cases. It’s of course too early to know whether this change will reduce the number of problematic cases brought against Asian Americans.

Although theft of trade secrets by foreign countries certainly occurs, the government has focused overwhelmingly on China. Of the 55 trade secret and economic espionage cases involving a foreign country brought since 1997, more than 70% targeted China. The government, however, seems to have a hard time bringing these cases to a successful conclusion, suggesting that such disproportionate attention is misplaced.

From 1997 to 2015, federal prosecutors had an average conviction rate of about 91% for all criminal cases. In federal white-collar cases, the conviction rate was more than 90%. But of the 39 trade secret and economic espionage cases involving China since 1997, federal prosecutors won convictions in only 66.7% of cases. In contrast, for cases involving other countries, prosecutors had a conviction rate much closer to its other cases — about 87%.

Under pressure to stop Chinese spying, prosecutors seem to file espionage-related charges without fully understanding the facts.

Last May, Xiaoxing Xi, former head of the physics department at Temple University, was arrested by FBI agents, who burst into his suburban Philadelphia home with guns drawn. Xi was handcuffed in front of his family and charged with sharing schematics for a piece of “secret” laboratory equipment, which it later turned out was not secret at all. Four months later, prosecutors dropped the case, saying “additional information came to the attention of the government.” Read more

Xiaoxing Xi, former head of the physics department at Temple University

Xiaoxing Xi, former head of the physics department at Temple University

Categories: AT Opinion, China, George Koo

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