A building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US. Wen Ho Lee was working as a scientist there until accused of espionage. Photo: iStock
A building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US. Wen Ho Lee was working as a scientist there until accused of espionage. Photo: iStock

On May 26, the Committee of 100 (C100) published its findings on the systemic profiling by the US government of Chinese-Americans suspected of economic espionage. Many Chinese-Americans have always known that they are victims of institutionalized racism. This study puts a measuring dipstick into this controversial issue.

Andrew Kim, a recent cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, performed the actual analysis of public arrest records of cases under the Economic Espionage Act from 1997 to 2015. He found that under the administration of president Barack Obama, that is, after 2009, the percentage of people charged under the EEA who were Chinese-Americans tripled to 52%.  If non-Chinese of Asian descent were also included, the total would add up to 62% of all the cases.

Since ethnic Asians represent only 5-6% of the total US population, it would seem that Asian-Americans and particularly Chinese-Americans are extraordinarily busy spying on the United States.

However, Asians charged under the EEA are also twice as likely as those with Western surnames to have the charges dropped or reduced to minor offenses so as to justify release on probation.

Conversely, if convicted of espionage, the average prison sentence is 25 months for Chinese-Americans as compared with 11 months for those with Western surnames.

In summary, if you are a Chinese-American living in the US, you are more likely to be suspected of being a spy, more likely to be falsely accused, and more likely to pay dearly whether or not you are guilty of any real infractions. Just having the Federal Bureau of Investigation imagine wrongdoing is enough to put you through hell.

Frank Wu, chairman of C100, recruited Kim to do the study. Kim’s work did not start from scratch but was built on top of data already collected by C100 member Jeremy Wu. Wu in turn initially took notice of the disparity based on ethnicity from the work of a Palo Alto, California, law firm.

C100, a national organization of prominent Chinese-Americans, has been following closely cases when Chinese-Americans have been  arrested. When Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was arrested and put in solitary confinement in 1999, C100 had a leadership role in coming to his defense.

Nelson Dong, then general counsel of C100, via a series of conference calls, organized a national coalition of Asian-American organizations to present a unified voice of protest to the administration of president Bill Clinton. Dr Lee was not given due process and the group protested that an FBI agent gave misleading and false testimony during Lee’s trial.

Even though the presiding judge apologized to Lee for government misconduct, Lee still had to plead guilty to downloading data into his computer in violation of accepted national-laboratory procedure. The misdemeanor charge was necessary to justify his 10 months of solitary confinement. There was no other way for the government to save face.

Eventually, the Lee family got some monetary compensation from the media for violating his privacy thanks to C100 member Brian Sun, who acted as the plaintiff’s counsel. Getting compensation from the government for wrongful prosecution is nearly impossible, as my review disclosed as recently as two years ago.

There are currently two pending cases involving Chinese-American scientists seeking compensation from the government. As reported last year, even after all charges were dropped against her, Sherry Chen still could not get her job back as a hydrologist with the National Weather Service (NWS).

Chen later retained legal counsel and got a hearing with the Merit System Protection Board of the US government that took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in March. The purpose of the hearing before the administrative judge of the MSPB was to determine why Chen should not get her job back.

At the hearing, it became clear that one Deborah Lee was the principal cause for denying Chen her old job. Even after the charges against Chen were dropped, Lee wrote a two-page letter insisting that Chen was a danger to the US. Tom Adams, onetime colleague of Lee and Chen, told Chen’s supporters at the hearing that on a social occasion, he had heard Lee express hatred and prejudice against ethnic Chinese.

Lee’s letter apparently became the basis for Laura Furgione to draft the letter to dismiss Chen in her capacity as deputy director of the NWS. Furgione, a self-described ambitious career bureaucrat, had to submit her removal letter twice because the director of the NWS refused to have anything to do with this sordid business.

Until her appearance at the hearing in Cincinnati, Furgione had never met Chen, did not know her and had no personal reason to insist on denying Chen her old post. Perhaps she thought writing the proposal to dismiss Chen would be a boost for her career.

Last December, Furgione moved from the NWS to become chief of the Office of Strategic Planning, a small office with a handful of staff at the US Census Bureau. Wu, who had retired from the bureau, observed in LinkedIn that given the organizational disarray there and in face of a pending national census, Furgione might have been given assignments where she had no chance to succeed.

Professor Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University in Philadelphia attended the C100 conference in Washington and I interviewed him about the civil suit he had filed against FBI agent Andrew Haugen. He said the decision to sue Haugen was a very difficult one because the action meant having to relive the trauma of being taken away in handcuffs and at gunpoint in front of his family, after being falsely accused of having sent restricted US technology to China.

However, he was infuriated not just by the way he was treated and that his rights as an US citizen has been violated, but because he had never been given any explanation from the government as to why he was targeted.

His complaint charged that “FBI Special Agent Andrew Haugen …  intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly made false statements and representations and material omissions of facts in his reports, affidavits, and other communications with federal prosecutors, thereby initiating a malicious prosecution of Professor Xi”.

Xi hopes his legal action will give him some answers. He understands and expects that the due process will take a long time and that the system protects government wrongdoing.

The way the system works in the US, even when an officer shoots an unarmed black man in the back, the officer may still find a justifiable probable cause to wiggle away. So it is with Haugen. Even if Haugen has a proclivity to arrest Chinese on sight on trumped-up charges, he can hide behind his badge of authority and never face charges for hate crimes.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the views of Asia Times or the Committee of 100.

George Koo

George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield's, a novel green building platform.

4 replies on “Evidence suggests FBI racially profiling Chinese Americans”

Comments are closed.