Backed by California Democrats, Chinese American scientists arrested on espionage charges demand answers

Three California House members and other members of the congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus are again pushing the Department of Justice for an independent investigation into the arrest, indictment and release of Chinese American scientists.

Flanked by two scientists who experienced this, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said at a news conference Tuesday the arrests appear to show a “practice and pattern of the federal government profiling Chinese American scientists as spies from China even when there is no credible evidence to support it.”

Members of the caucus are scheduled to meet with U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch on Wednesday to discuss the cases.

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National Weather Service employee Sherry Chen of Ohio and Temple University physics professor Xi Xiaoxing of Penn Valley, Pa., were arrested this year on suspicion of espionage. Charges in both instances were dropped with little explanation before going to court.

Fears that the Chinese government is collecting U.S. trade and government secrets has led the Obama administration to aggressively investigate and prosecute suspected espionage, including urging federal employees to report suspicious behavior.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing later Tuesday, Chu asked Lynch to explain what happened. Xi and Chen sat two rows behind.

“I can state to you unequivocally that the Department of Justice does not focus an investigation on any individual on the basis of their race or their national origin,” Lynch said, adding that she couldn’t comment on specific cases.

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Chen was accused of using a stolen password to access information about dams and passing the information to Chinese officials. Xi was accused of sharing with China schematics for a U.S.-made pocket heater used in superconductor research.

Xi said he wants answers about why he was targeted for what he called normal academic collaboration, and why the federal government thought he was enough of a threat to barge into his home at dawn and arrest him at gunpoint.

“My family and I deserve some answers,” he said.

Chen said she was arrested at work by six FBI employees. The National Weather Service has not allowed her to return since, she said.

“My career, my normal life and my reputation that had been built over two decades is gone,” she said.

In recent months, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) sent two letters, signed by others in the delegation, asking Lynch to open a full Department of Justice investigation into whether race, ethnicity or national origin played a part in recent cases in which Asian Americans have been arrested and indicted on espionage charges, only to have those charges dropped.

Rep. Michael Honda (D-San Jose) said the group "won't be satisfied" with an internal review of what happened; they want an independent investigation.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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