U.S. drops charges against scientist accused of spying

The Justice Department has moved to drop the espionage case against physicist Xiaoxing Xi.

On Friday, the Justice Department abruptly dropped criminal charges against a scientist who was accused of sharing sensitive technology with China. Why? In a federal court filing, prosecutors stated that "additional information came to the attention of the government." In other words, they f*cked up. A lot.

U.S. Drops Charges That Professor Shared Technology With China

Last May, the Justice Department arrested 57-year-old Xiaoxing Xi, the former chairman of Temple University's physics department and a globally recognized expert in the field of superconductivity. Mr. Xi, a naturalized American citizen, was accused of sending sensitive information to scientists in China. Federal agents, guns drawn, raided his home and took him away in handcuffs.

The most damning piece of evidence appeared to be schematics for a piece of semiconductor research equipment known as a pocket heater. Prosecutors say Xi sent the schematics, which he had sworn to keep secret, to scientists in China. Unfortunately, neither the FBI nor the Justice Department bothered to put in the research to figure out the embarrassing truth: the schematics were not for a pocket heater.

The science involved in Dr. Xi’s case is, by any measure, complicated. It involves the process of coating one substance with a very thin film of another. Dr. Xi’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, said that despite the complexity, it appeared that the government never consulted with experts before taking the case to a grand jury. As a result, prosecutors misconstrued the evidence, he said.

It took sworn statements from several independent experts -- including the guy who co-invented the friggin' pocket heater -- to convince the Justice Department to consult with an actual physicist before taking the case any further. Because a physicist might know things. Basically, Xi's lawyer told prosecutors to do their fucking research.

On Friday, the Justice Department dropped the case "in the interests of justice." Yes, that's one way to put it.

Dr. Xi's lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, who has represented other Chinese American scientists accused and cleared of espionage, calls it an obvious, overzealous case of profiling. Somebody really really really wanted to catch some Chinese spies, and this guy looked Chinese enough.

"If he was Canadian-American or French-American, or he was from the U.K., would this have ever even got on the government's radar? I don't think so," Zeidenberg told The New York Times.

I'm not saying espionage isn't a real problem, but if you're about to drag an internationally renown scientist's personal and professional reputation through mud, you really should know what the hell you're talking about. "Hey, that scientist is Chinese" is not compelling enough evidence for federal espionage charges.

More here: U.S. moves to drop spy charges against Temple professor


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