Civil rights groups have been accusing the US Department of Justice of using racial profiling to target scientists of Chinese descent for years. A new report today may help to quantify some of these claims.
The Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese-American civic leaders published the study. It found that people of Chinese heritage were significantly more likely to be charged under Economic Espionage Act and less likely to be convicted.
This study attempts to answer the fundamental question of whether Asian-Americans are treated differently in relation to suspicions of spying, according to Andrew C. Kim (a visiting scholar at South Texas College of Law Houston). Yes, that is the answer to this question. The answer is yes.
The study looked at data from US economic espionage trials from 1996 to 2020 and found that less than half of all the defendants were accused in stealing secrets that would be beneficial to China. This figure is significantly lower than those used by US officials as justification for the Department of Justice's flagship China Initiative.
The study revealed that 46% of defendants were accused in stealing secrets that would benefit China. 42% of cases involved American companies.
The report found that 46% of the Economic Espionage Act defendants were charged with activity that would benefit Chinese individuals or entities. 42% were accused of stealing secrets which would benefit American businesses.
These numbers contradict much of the Justice Department's messaging about the China Initiative. It was established in 2018 to combat economic spying. In the first line of its China Initiative home page, the department stated that 80% of its prosecutions would benefit China. This is theft at a scale so large that it constitutes one of the largest transfers in wealth in human history.
The program is primarily geared towards academic researchers since 2019.
Evidence of strong charges without much evidence
This report was based upon an analysis of all Economic Espionage Act prosecutions from 1996 to 2020. This report is an update to an earlier Cardozo Law Review analysis that covered the period from 1996 to 2016.
Both theft of trade secrets, and economic espionage were included. The economic espionage charges require proof of a connection to a foreign entity. Higher penalties are also required. These two categories are only part of the China Initiative charges; Kim briefly mentions false statement and process crimes. People have been also charged with grant fraud, lying on visa applications and other crimes.
Kim used his names to proxy for race. He also used Google searches when names like Lee or Park were ethnically unclear. Kim also noted that foreign national defendants are often mentioned in press releases. Therefore, he assumed all defendants were citizens, unless stated otherwise.