In my post last night about Rongxing Li, a former Ohio State professor now suspected of illegal export of technology to China, I cautioned, “I would suggest some skepticism about the accuracy of these early reports…” An article in today’s New York Times shows why caution is warranted.
According to Prof. Xi’s lawyer and experts hired in Xi’s defense, the professor was the victim of overzealous actions by FBI agents and a federal attorney. The government has now dropped charges against Xi. Assuming the charges are not refiled, both the government and Temple University owe Xi a huge apology.
None of this has any bearing on the Li case, and as mentioned in my last post, in many of the (mostly industrial) Chinese espionage cases, the accused have pleaded guilty. And some cases are simply not black-and-white, such as the Wen Ho Lee case, in which I was somewhat involved. The Wikipedia entry for the case is pretty accurate, in particular these excerpts:
On December 10, 1999, Lee was arrested, indicted on 59 counts, and jailed in solitary confinement without bail for 278 days until September 13, 2000, when he accepted a plea bargain from the federal government…President Bill Clinton issued a public apology to Lee over his treatment by the federal government during the investigation…The federal judge who heard the case during an earlier appeal said that “top decision makers in the executive branch” “have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen”…In 1982, Lee [had been] recorded on a wiretap speaking with another Taiwanese-American scientist who had been accused of espionage. Lee offered to the scientist to find out who had turned him in. When confronted by the FBI about this incident, Lee said he did not know the scientist, until the FBI demonstrated proof of the conversation. Despite some evidence that could have kept the case open, the FBI closed this file on Lee in 1984.
During Lee’s incarceration, a group of us suspected strongly that Dr. Lee’s rights to due process were being trampled on, a suspicion later borne out, culminating in Judge Parker’s dramatic apology to Lee in open court. On the other hand, that earlier incident in which Lee had called a confessed spy, out of the blue, is confirmed in Lee’s own book, and those who today claim that Lee was targeted by the FBI simply because of his Chinese ethnicity — a theme seen in today’s Times article — are simply incorrect.
Hopefully the Xi case will give the government cause to be vigilant but careful. In this light, a 2013 reversal of arguably over-the-top government policy involving China and a research conference shows again how haste leads to embarrassing U-turns.