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Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US

A group of more than 150 professors from Stanford University signed an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week asking that he get rid of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) "China Initiative," which was started by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

While acknowledging that is important for the U.S. to address concerns of intellectual property theft and economic espionage, the Stanford educators wrote in their letter that the program has since "deviated significantly from its claimed mission."

The professors stated that the China Initiative is "harming the United States' research and technology competitiveness and it is fueling biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling."

They pointed out that the program disproportionately targets researchers with Chinese origins, choosing to investigate them not based on evidence but simply for having a connection to China.

The program was started in 2018 to combat Chinese espionage but has since been criticized for investigating Asian individuals falsely accused of committing crimes.

"In many cases the federal response seems disproportionate and inappropriate. In some cases, federal agents associated with the China Initiative have prosecuted researchers without solid evidence," the professors wrote. "Moreover, racial profiling - even when undertaken in pursuit of justice - is both inconsistent with U.S. law and with the principles underlying our society."

Apart from what they described as the discriminatory nature of the program, the professors also argued that when one faculty member is investigated, numerous other educators feel threatened despite having no history of wrongdoing.

"Second, in most of the China Initiative cases involving academics, the alleged crime has nothing to do with scientific espionage or intellectual property theft," they added. "Most prosecutions are for misconduct such as failure to disclose foreign appointments or funding. While such problems should be addressed, they should not be confused with national security concerns.

"We strongly urge you to terminate the China Initiative and develop an alternative response to the challenges posed by our relations with the People's Republic of China, one that avoids racial profiling and discouraging beneficial and important collaborations and influx of talented personnel," they wrote.

The Hill has reached out to the DOJ for a response to the letter.

This letter comes shortly after a group of more than 20 Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations sent a letter to President Biden urging him to combat anti-Asian hate and violence. The groups named the China Initiative as a policy Biden should end in order to fight anti-Asian discrimination.

In June, a federal agent admitted to falsely accusing a Chinese-born professor of being a spy. FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku falsely accused Anming Hu at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, of being a spy and of using baseless information to have Hu and his son placed on the federal no-fly list. The agent claimed that his investigation into Hu had nothing to do with the DOJ's China Initiative.

Sadiku told university officials that Hu was a Chinese military operative despite having zero evidence to verify this claim.

During a trial, Sadiku admitted to not knowing the last time Hu had been to China and failed to recall who had tipped him off that the professor might be a spy. Sadiku claimed to have conducted "open source" research on Hu, which turned out to simply be a Google search of Hu.

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