DRAD and Others Urge Strict Oversight of FBI After Wray’s Remarks RE: Chinese Americans

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FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 13. In an exchange with Senator Marco Rubio, Wray seemingly endorsed the view that Chinese students in the US in general constitute a national security risk. He claimed that almost every single one of the FBI’s 56 field offices is “seeing” Chinese spies. Given the FBI’s past history of profiling and targeting Chinese-American scientists and academics, his broad-brush statement raised alarm bells.  We sent a letter, signed by 10 civil society organizations to Senators Burr and Warner to urge the committee to exercise its oversight authorities to ensure the FBI does not engage in impermissible profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The letter is available as a PDF here.

April 9, 2018
The Honorable Richard Burr
Chairman
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
211 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Mark Warner
Ranking Member
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
211 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Burr and Senator Warner,
We are writing out of concern about comments made by FBI Director Christopher Wray during a February 13, 2018 hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In an exchange with Senator Marco Rubio, Mr. Wray gave credence to the view that Chinese students in general constitute a national security risk. Given the FBI’s past history of profiling and targeting Chinese-American scientists and academics, Mr. Wray’s broad-brush response was problematic. We urge this committee to exercise its oversight authorities to ensure the FBI does not engage in impermissible profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Senator Rubio explicitly asked Mr. Wray about the “the counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from Chinese students[…]” Wray responded “I think in this setting I would just say that the use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country. It’s not just in major cities. It’s in small ones as well. It’s across basically every discipline.” 1

This extraordinarily broad and unqualified statement casts nearly every Chinese student, professor, and scientist under suspicion. There is clear evidence that the FBI has targeted American scientists and scholars due to their Chinese national origin or ethnicity. A particularly harrowing example is that of wrongfully prosecuted professor Xiaoxing Xi. The FBI arrested Xi, a Chinese-born American physicist, for sending restricted technology to China (in fact, the information Xi shared was not restricted, a fact recklessly ignored by the FBI). The charges were dropped, but serious questions remain about why the FBI was surveilling and intercepting Xi’s communications in the first place. In the meantime, the FBI”
actions inflicted irreparable harm to Xi’s professional reputation and career. Mr. Wray’s reckless depiction of virtually all Chinese students as potential spies raises concerns that the FBI is using Chinese national origin or ethnicity as a proxy for suspicion.

Similarly, Senator Rubio’s exchange with Mr. Wray regarding the Confucius Institutes focuses on issues that are not, and should not be, of concern to the FBI. The Senator asked Mr. Wray if the FBI was concerned by the Confucius Institute, which he said, “teach[es] half-truths.” Mr. Wray affirmed that the FBI does “share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We’ve been watching that development for a while. It's just one of many tools that they take advantage of. We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program, but it is something that we’re watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps.” 2

Unfortunately, his response did not clarify what exactly the Confucius Institutes are doing to warrant FBI attention. While we aware that when, and under what circumstances, American universities should partner with the Confucius Institute is a subject of controversy within the academy, it is hardly a matter within the purview of the FBI. It is not the role of the FBI to police the content of curriculum at US universities. As such, we believe this committee should exercise its oversight authorities and inquire as to what “appropriate investigative steps” the FBI has taken in relation to the Confucius Institute.

Singling individuals out for suspicion because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin is never acceptable. Senator Rubio’s questions and Mr. Wray’s responses, which paint Chinese students broadly as potential spies are deeply troubling. It is made all the more so by the FBI’s pattern of wrongfully targeting Chinese-American scientists as being potential spies.

For further information, please contact Sue Udry, Executive Director at Defending Rights & Dissent at sue@rightsanddissent.org or 202-552-7408.

Signed,
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Chinese for Affirmative Action
Defending Rights & Dissent
Emgage Action
Muslim Justice League
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
Phillips Brooks House Association
Poligon Education Fund
Restore The Fourth
RootsAction.org
Cc: Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence


1 Elizabeth Redden, “The Chinese Student Threat?,” Inside Higher Ed, February 15, 2018, available at:
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/15/fbi-director-testifies-chinese-students-and-intelligence-threats

2 Ibid.



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