An FBI agent admitted in an ongoing trial to falsely accusing a Chinese-born Tennessee professor of being a Chinese spy, using baseless information to have him placed on the federal no-fly list and spying on him and his son for two years, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
The newspaper said FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku admitted last week to falsely accusing former University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professor Anming Hu of being a spy.
Sadiku also admitted to using the false information to pressure Hu to become a spy for the U.S., the Sentinel reported. No evidence was ever discovered that suggested Hu, an internationally recognized welding technology expert, is a spy.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Phil Lomonaco said to Sadiku, "You wanted to find a Chinese spy in Knoxville," making note of the tactics he used to secure a fraud indictment against Hu.
"My job is to find spies, yes," the FBI agent responded.
During the trial, Sadiku admitted to not knowing the last time Hu was in China.
“You’ve been carrying around his passport ... haven’t you?” Lomonaco asked Sadiku. “You know you’re under oath, right?”
“I don’t remember the dates on it. ... I wouldn’t rely on that document," Sadiku responded, according to the Sentinel.
Lomonaco asked if Sadiku could return Hu's passport. Hu will not receive his passport unless the three wire fraud charges against him are thrown out.
During the trial, Sadiku was unable to recall who tipped him off that Hu might be a spy.
In 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a “China Initiative” that instructed federal agents to ferret out “economic” Chinese spies in the U.S. Chinese professors at American universities quickly became targets of the initiative, the Sentinel noted. Hu is the first professor to stand trial. Sadiku claims that his investigation had nothing to do with the initiative.
He claimed that his investigation began with an “open source” search for information on Hu, which turned out to be a Google search on the professor.
Sadiku admitted to telling university officials that Hu was a Chinese military operative, despite having no evidence to back up that claim. He never followed up with the officials to clarify that his statements were false, the newspaper noted.
U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Thomas Varlan may rule this week that prosecutors do not have enough evidence to pursue fraud charges against Hu, or he may allow the 12-person jury to decide.