We have created a database to understand the China Initiative. The government then changed its records.

The Ministry of Justice itself was not very active. As we explain in our main article, Ministry of Justice officials have so far been unable to provide a clear definition of what constitutes a China Initiative case or how many cases it has filed in total. This lack of transparency made it impossible to accurately understand what the China Initiative is, what it has achieved, and what the costs were for those disproportionately affected.

“I would like to see a balance,” said Jeremy Wu, who held senior civil rights and ethics positions in the US government before co-founding APA Justice Task Force, one of the groups that independently monitors the China Initiative. “What have we got? How many spies we caught versus how much damage was done [been] made not only for people, but also for the future of American science and technology? ”

Our database is the wrong balance. But it is an important step towards answering some of the questions Wu is asking – questions that the US government has yet to answer. Rather, it only exacerbated the confusion: Two days after we asked for comment, the Justice Department made important updates to its web page, deleting cases that did not support its account of successful counterintelligence efforts.

How we did it

This spring, we began searching all press releases, which were then posted on the Ministry of Justice’s China Initiative website, followed by another data collection in August. We then pulled out thousands of pages of federal court transcripts for each case and used that information to build our database.

We also looked at additional court documents and public statements by FBI and Department of Justice officials to find cases that were removed from the web page or were never included in them. We then supplemented this information with interviews with lawyers, family members of the accused, collaborating researchers, former US attorneys, civil rights advocates, lawmakers, and outside academics who have studied the initiative. We found more cases that were delisted from the Ministry of Justice’s public listing, but were either publicly described as part of the initiative, or were in line with a general model of fact in which scientists were accused of hiding ties to Chinese institutions, with the hackers allegedly working for the Chinese government. or accused of illegal technology transfer.

Our goal was to create as complete a database of China Initiative prosecutions as possible. We know there may be more, and our database may grow as we confirm more cases. If you have more information on China Initiative cases, please contact us at [email protected]

Our tracking efforts were complicated in June when the Justice Department stopped updating its China Initiative web page. That timeline roughly coincides with the resignation of John Demers, the assistant attorney general who was in charge of the homeland security department that oversaw the initiative.

After we created a rough database and analyzed the data, we compared the entries with Wu of the APA Justice Task Force and with Asian American Advocating Justice | AJC, another civil rights group tracking cases, and we shared our initial findings with a small group of lawmakers, civil rights organizations and academics and asked for their comments.

What has changed the Department of Justice

On November 19 – two days after MIT Technology Review contacted the Justice Department with questions about the initiative, including a number of cases that we believed were omitted or mistakenly included – the department made major changes to the China Initiative’s web page.

These changes were extensive, but they did not clear up much of the confusion surrounding the initiative. In fact, in a sense, they made the situation worse.

While he did not respond to our specific questions, Vin Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, told us via email that staff “are in the process of updating our web page to reflect some of the changes, updates and layoffs. ”

He also shared his own department numbers. “Since November 2018, we have initiated or settled nine cases on charges of economic espionage and seven cases of theft of trade secrets related to the PRC. We also opened 12 cases of fraud against universities and / or grant institutions, ”he wrote.

We found significantly more than 12 research fairness cases, but only 13 of the 23 research fairness cases included in our database are currently on the website. (One of these cases was settled before charges were filed.) Six of these cases ended in plea. Seven have yet to be reviewed.

Seven of the eight investigative integrity cases that ended in firing or acquittal were previously posted on the website, but the Justice Department has now removed them from its list.

Our analysis has shown that since November 2018, there have been 12 cases on charges of theft of trade secrets or economic espionage. Ten are listed on the website of the Ministry of Justice. (Two were linked by prosecution, although they were charged separately.) Of the 10, seven are charged. Only theft of trade secrets, rather than the more serious accusation of economic espionage. One was accused of both economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. The other two cases involved hacking – one referred to economic espionage and the other to theft of trade secrets.

The Justice Department did not respond to numerous requests for a more detailed breakdown of its figures.

Our subsequent analysis showed that the Ministry of Justice removed 17 cases and 39 defendants from its China Initiative page, added two cases[allofthefiveaccusedandupdatedexistingcasesspecifyingtheverdictsandinformationfromcourtproceedingsifsuchisthecase[withatotaloffivedefendantsandupdatewithdexistingcases[всегоспятьюобвиняемымииобновилосуществующиеделауказавприговорыиинформациюосудебныхразбирательствахеслитаковаяимеется[withatotaloffivedefendantsandupdatedexistingcaseswithsentencingandtrialinformationwhereavailable

Hornbuckle did not respond to a subsequent request for comment on what the deletions suggest about transparency.

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