IIt was at some point before noon. Still not fully dressed, he opened the door to be confronted by about 12 armed FBI agents.
Agents burst into Xi’s house, ran around shouting “FBI, FBI”. They aimed their weapons at his wife and two daughters and ordered them to leave their bedrooms with their hands raised. Xi was handcuffed and arrested in front of his family.
His alleged crime? Four cases of wire fraud to pass on sensitive US technology to China, his country of birth. “During the night, I was painted as a Chinese spy all over the news and the Internet and faced the possibility of up to 80 years in prison and a $ 1 million fine,” he wrote in a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
Four months after his arrest, the case collapsed before reaching court. Xi, who came to the United States from China in 1989 at the age of 32, was told through his lawyer that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) had rejected the case after “new information came to the government’s attention”.
On Monday, nearly seven years after the raid, Xi, 64, asked a federal appeals court in Philadelphia to reinstate his claims for damages against the U.S. government and the FBI. He and his family claim they were “wrongly” investigated and prosecuted in 2015.
The Xi family also wants a statement that the FBI violated their fourth and fifth amendments. They say they have “clear evidence” that the FBI violated their constitutional rights and that years later they are still dealing with the trauma of the trial.
“If we can not hold the government accountable now, there will not be much to stop the government from profiling other Asian-American scientists and ruining the lives of more innocents in the future,” Xi said. “The government has no right to do what they have done to me and my family.”
This is not Xi’s first attempt to accept the US government. In April last year, a lower court rejected nine of his 10 allegations, which included allegations that the FBI had knowingly made false statements. The court also rejected his claim that the FBI’s action was “discriminatory”.
But the lower court has not yet ruled on Xi’s 10th claim, which challenges the U.S. government’s surveillance of Xi and his family. The DOJ declined to comment on the lawsuit. The FBI has been contacted by the Guardian for a comment on the Xi case.
Xi’s trial took place during the Obama administration, but his latest attempt to secure compensation comes amid a wide-ranging debate in Washington on how the United States should compete with China. Stories like Xi’s have also emerged as more American scientists – especially those of Chinese descent – are caught up in the geopolitical tensions.
In 2018, the Trump administration launched one China’s initiative to “[reflect] the strategic priority of addressing Chinese national security threats and strengthening the President’s overall national security strategy ”. DoJs website boast a number of examples The latest, from November 5, describes an alleged attempt by a Chinese intelligence officer to steal trade secrets.
Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray claimed “there is just no country that poses a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation and our economic security than China”. He claimed that his office was opening a counter-intelligence case against China “about twice a day”.
Opponents of the China initiative argue that it creates a pervasive atmosphere of fear among American academics who used to or still have ties to China. Until recently, they were seen by many as a bridge between the two nations.
Judy Chu, a California Democrat and the first Sino-American woman in the U.S. Congress, said the China initiative is an instrument of “racial profiling.” “[The government] has made it a means of terrorizing Chinese scientists and engineers. “Something has gone dramatically wrong,” she told US media in December.
In response to concerns, Attorney General Merrick Garland told Congress in October that the DoJ would review the program. Opposition to the initiative has intensified in recent months. In December said a former DoJ official it had “driven and in some essential ways lost its focus”.
In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesman for the DOJ said: “In accordance with the Justice Minister’s instructions, the ministry is reviewing our approach to addressing threats from the Chinese government. We expect to complete the review and provide further information in the coming weeks.”
Zhigang Suo, a Chinese-born Harvard academic who, like Xi, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, said the heated atmosphere had a negative impact. “Of course people are sad about China, but I can see that it takes two people to quarrel. And I’m not a fan of youth behavior on either side,” he said. to leave the United States. But now I can tell you that some of the best Chinese-American scientists have either left or are considering leaving. “
For most of the three decades since he settled in the United States, Suo has not been interested in politics. “My wife is a political junkie, but I was not interested in it at all,” he said. But on January 14, 2021, the arrest of his best friend, Gang Chen, a Chinese-American scientist, changed that.
Chen, a Chinese-born mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was accused of hiding his connections to China. The charges were later dismissed, but the incident turned Suo from an apolitical science nerd to a political activist.
“Before [the China Initiative], you were innocent until proven guilty. Now you are guilty until you prove your innocence, “Suo said.” I fear this is the start of a slow process of brain drain for America. Historically, brain drain precedes the decline of great nations. “
In a recent interview with the New York TimesChen, who has now been released, said: “You work hard, you have a good result, you build a reputation … The government gets what they want, does not? But in the end you are treated like a spy. It just breaks your heart. It breaks your confidence. “
Supporters of the China initiative claim that this China-focused program is not entirely without merit. They point to recent case by a Harvard chemistry professor, Charles Lieber, who in December was found guilty of six counts, including lack of information about his associations and funding from a China-based university and the country’s controversial talent program.
But the same month, and Bloomberg analysis showed that among the 50 charges announced or not sealed since the start of the program, “only 20% of the cases are alleged economic espionage, and most of them are unsolved. Only three claim that secrets were disclosed to Chinese agents.”
Xi said the nightmare experience seven years ago interrupted his “American dream.” Although the charges were quickly dropped and his university position reinstated, his career has nevertheless been damaged, he said. “My research program is now much smaller … I’m afraid to seek funding, because as long as I do something imperfect, it may one day come back and haunt me.”
Despite the ordeal, Xi said he had also learned an important lesson. “If we – Americans of Chinese descent – want our environment improved, we have to say no and fight for our rights. That’s how democracy works. “