Study: Asians face harsher punishment than Westerners in espionage cases

espionage cases

Committee of 100 (C100), a non-profit organization that promotes U.S. and China relations, has released a study that concludes espionage defendants with Asian and especially Chinese names face harsher punishment than those with Western ones.

Racial disparities: The study, titled “Racial Disparities in Economic Espionage Act Prosecutions: A Window into the New Red Scare,” analyzed 190 cases involving 276 individuals accused of espionage between 1996 to 2020, according to Committee 100. The investigated cases were recorded in the Federal PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system.

  • The report concluded that 1 in 3 Asian Americans may have been falsely accused of espionage under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA). Additionally, 27% of individuals charged under EEA were not convicted of any crimes, while 6% of Asian Americans “were convicted only of process offenses like false statements.”
  • The number of defendants of Chinese descent accused of EEA offenses grew from 16% of total cases from before 2009 to making up more than a majority of total cases in the seven-year period after 2009, South China Morning Post reported.
  • While the Trump administration introduced a program in 2018 that would “identify and prosecute those engaged in trade secret theft, hacking and economic espionage” called the “China Initiative,” which was focused on professors and academics of Chinese descent working in American universities,  the concern toward Chinese spies stealing American trade secrets such issues was already widespread during the Obama administration, Committee of 100’s white paper read.
  • News stories focused more on spies for the Chinese government over the years, but the study found that there are nearly as many domestic espionage cases as international ones. The report stated 46% of alleged theft happened for the benefit of China, and 42% of the defendants were charged for stealing trade secrets for the benefit of an American business or person.

Jail sentence: About 49% of defendants with Western names were only sentenced to probation with no incarceration, while 75% of Asian defendants were sent to prison. However, the report also discovered that Chinese defendants were punished more severely and received an average of 27 months of imprisonment than those with other Asian names at 23 months and Western names at 12 months.

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  • The Committee of 100’s report also revealed the majority of defendants with Western names received a formal letter summoning them to court, and 32% were arrested with handcuffs. In contrast, 69% of defendants of Asian descent and 78% of Chinese defendants were made aware they were charged during their arrest, which often includes being handcuffed.
  • There’s no judgment of innocence in our justice system, but these people were never proven guilty of any crimes,” lawyer Andrew Chongseh Kim, who co-led the report, said. “They may have been innocent the entire time.”

Spies in universities: Faculty members and staff of universities have also been subjected to accusations of espionage, but the report found the defendants rarely faced charges related to the allegations.

  • Dr. Anming Hu, a former associate professor at the University of Tennessee, was investigated in March 2018 for being a Chinese spy. Kujtim Sadiku, the FBI agent investigating the professor, admitted federal agents had falsely accused Hu of espionage during a trial in June.
  • A group of 177 Stanford professors from over 40 departments wrote an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Sept. 8 asking to put a stop to the “Chinese Initiative” program that helps fuel “biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling,” The Hill reported.

Featured Image Bjoertvedt via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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