WASHINGTON — When the Justice Department arrested the chairman of Temple University’s physics department this spring and accused him of sharing sensitive American-made technology with China, prosecutors had what seemed like a damning piece of evidence: schematics of sophisticated laboratory equipment sent by the professor, Xi Xiaoxing, to scientists in China.Yes there is a real threat out there:
The schematics, prosecutors said, revealed the design of a device known as a pocket heater. The equipment is used in superconductor research, and Dr. Xi had signed an agreement promising to keep its design a secret.
But months later, long after federal agents had led Dr. Xi away in handcuffs, independent experts discovered something wrong with the evidence at the heart of the Justice Department’s case: The blueprints were not for a pocket heater.
Faced with sworn statements from leading scientists, including an inventor of the pocket heater, the Justice Department on Friday afternoon dropped all charges against Dr. Xi, an American citizen.
The United States faces an onslaught from outside hackers and inside employees trying to steal government and corporate secrets. President Obama’s strategy to combat it involves aggressive espionage investigations and prosecutions, as well as increased cyberdefenses.But in what material way is this different from racial profiling?
But Dr. Xi’s case, coming on the heels of a similar case that was dismissed a few months ago in Ohio, raises questions about whether the Justice Department, in its rush to find Chinese spies, is ensnaring innocent American citizens of Chinese ancestryAnd despite the fact that the government was wrong in its accusations and wrong because it had behaved foolishly and badly, there is little prospect that there will be any accountability.
A spokeswoman for Zane D. Memeger, the United States attorney in Philadelphia who brought the charges, did not elaborate on the decision to drop the case. In court documents, the Justice Department said that “additional information came to the attention of the government.”Additional information like actually relevant facts above and beyond the fact that an American of Chinese ancestry had routinely shared public information with scientists in China.
Not only is this entirely repulsive behavior of the government but it calls into question the moral authority to bring other important prosecutions. How can you, with moral authority, bring a prosecution against individuals and companies that might be discriminating against people because of their race when that is what you as the government are already doing as well. Such fact-based cases should be brought, but it weakens the moral authority of the government when it opens itself to similar accusations. I view this as criminal because I don't think we ever acknowledge the degree to which our huge and complex society depends on first order trust; trust of one another and trust of our critical institutions including government.