Professor Xiaoxing Xi tells a harrowing story of government surveillance.


So I’m a physics professor, but I was also a target of government surveillance. So I’m here to tell you with my own
experience that government surveillance can have devastating impact on the lives of innocent American
citizens, in particular those like me, who were born in China. So it was May 21st,
2015, before seven o’clock in the morning, I was woken up by a very loud knock on
my door. So urgent that I run to open the door without even fully dressed. And
many people were outside of my door, And many had weapons. and some had battering
ram ready to take down my door. An FBI agent announced that I was arrested and
another put handcuffs on me. And the armed agent burst into our house running
around and running at my wife and two daughters. And one by one they walk out
of their bedroom with their hands raised at gunpoint. So I had to no idea why
this was happening, and I was worried this must be very frightening to my
wife and children. And my younger daughter was only a 12 year-old at the
time. So as the FBI agent took me out of my house I didn’t know when I would see
my family again. I grown up during Cultural Revolution time in China. At
that time it was not unusual that people could be taken away and could not see
their family for a long time. So at the FBI headquarters I was subjected to DNA
sampling, mug shots, fingerprinting, and interrogation. Later at the US
Marshal Service I was ordered to strip naked and bend over against the wall so
that a US Marshal could check whether I hid anything in my body. So at the end of
a two-hour interrogation the FBI agents told me that I was charged for having made a
pocket heater, a technology covered by a non-disclosure agreement with a US company,
for a Chinese collaborator. I said “That’s absurd!” The fact is that I had
never shared the pocket heater information with anybody in China,
I could not believe how they could do this, use these tactics
for violent criminals and designed to incite maximum psychological damage
against me and my family without a thread of truth in their
allegations. So there were four counts in the indictment against me,
based on four emails I sent from my Temple University address to colleagues
in China. None of the emails talked about the pocket heater.
They were about things entirely different from the pocket heater. So a
heater is what we use to heat the substrate when we make thin film
materials much like a using stove for cooking. The pocket heater is a
kind of heater that was invented by a German company in the 1990s and the US
company modify it for its own purpose, it is not classified. not sensitive, but
rather well-known publicly. And I am not aware of any economic value it has to
the US company, so I don’t know why the US government should even care about it.
The FBI agents did ask me a lot of questions about my academic
collaborations with colleagues in China. But this is what the US government and
the universities encourage us to do. They are for advancing sciences and
for publications and never for financial gains. And also I had never
done research that involved sensitive, classified, or protected information, or
export-controlled technologies. So I was very fortunate to have engaged a team of
excellent lawyers and also leading experts in my research field wrote affidavits to
affirm that I had never shared the pocket heater information with China. And the
author of affidavit wrote that I was familiar with the pocket heater as I
was one of the co-inventors. Armed with these affidavits, my lawyer
made a presentation to the government, and also made a request:
Find your own expert and ask if there were any evidence that Professor Xi
shared the pocket heater information with people in China. And we also shared with
the government a motion to dismiss the indictment that we were ready to file
with the courts. On September 11, 2015— that was the deadline date that the
court ordered us to file our motion—- the government dismissed the case, citing
that additional information came to the attention of the government. So when the
case was dropped I said to a New York Times reporter that this is not a joke.
This is not a game. Just imagine that one day I was a respected
researcher and a department chair and enjoyed family life just like any ordinary
American family. Overnight, I was painted as a Chinese spy over the news and the
Internet and faced up to 80 years in prison and one million dollar fine. And
friends and colleagues stopped talking to us. and I could not talk to my
students. We were constantly concerned that the FBI were
still surveilling us and listening to our phone calls and so on, and we are
also very concerned about our personal safety. So this
sudden stress was bad enough to crush anybody, but even worse. the stress
day in, day out, would accumulate, and sometimes become almost unbearable.
In addition, we did not know how we would pay the mounting legal fee if the
case dragged on. So you know, we go through rollercoasters of emotions,
consumed by outrage and anguish, and [defines], and also scares. It was really a
nightmare that I do not want to see any innocent American to go through.
So it’s been two years since my case was dismissed but our struggle is far from
over. The government has never told us the reason they decided to target me.
We know that the FBI had all my emails. We know—-the prosecutor told my lawyer
that they listened to my phone calls. And the court filings show that the
government conducted intense electronic surveillance and a physical search
against me pursuant to FISA. And my lawyer told me that my case started as a
national security case and became a criminal case at some point. And we know
that I was surveilled. What we don’t know is why. Once I was
prosecuted despite being innocent, our peace of mind is forever gone. We are now
still living under constant concern that the government is still reading my
emails and listening my phone calls, and anything that I do could be twisted as a
reason to charge me, much like a Chinese saying, “to pick bones out of an egg.”
So the question is did the government target me because of my Chinese
ethnic origin? Because my visit to China with my mother, my relatives, and my friends?
My lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, said that, “If he was Canadian-American, or French-
American, or he was from the UK, would this have ever even got on the
government’s radar? I don’t think so.” My case is not the only such case. There is
a pattern that scientists of Chinese origin being charged only for the
charges to be dropped. This has prompted members of the US
Congress, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the many Asian-American civil
rights groups, to ask the Department of Justice to investigate whether race,
ethnicity, or national origin have played any role in these cases. And I want to
say that the racial profiling is not just a Chinese-American issue, but
an issue for all Americans. Earlier this year I gave a talk about my ordeal
and afterwards, at the University of Maryland, An African-American
student wrote to me. “I cannot pretend to know what you feel or struggle with. I
have been trained my whole life knowing that situations such as yours could
happen to me.” His great-uncle was wrongfully convicted of raping a
white woman and spent 25 years in prison, until it was found that the fingerprints
in the evidence matched another man. So, race-based persecution and
prosecution of any ethnic groups of Americans infringe on the constitutional
rights of all American citizens. So I want to quote the surveillance
wiretapping case of Olmstead vs United States in 1929, the Supreme
Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis citing his dissenting opinion: the
greatest dangers to Liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal,
well-meaning but without understanding. The men of zeal in my case were
certainly without understanding, quite literally. Men of zeal can also be
malicious and not well-meaning. Persecution. surveillance, and
prosecution based on race, ethnicity, and national origin are definitely not
well-meaning. Cases like mine do not advance the cause of fighting economic
espionage and protecting our intellectual property. They undermine
people’s confidence in America’s legal system. They terrorize the Asian-
American community and scientific community. They endanger the
liberty we cherish so much in this country. That is why I’ve been telling
people about my personal story and tell you here, to you, the discussion here, and
the work that my fellow panelists are doing, is important to prevent any
innocent American from becoming the next innocent target of
government surveillance. Thank you very much.

5 thoughts on “Professor Xiaoxing Xi tells a harrowing story of government surveillance.

  1. They just busted a Chinese FBI agent in China with American classified info on his person. Arrested his ass! But, the guy in this video is a victim of the IC's over zealousness.

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