Houstonians respond to Asian Americans being increasingly targeted in economic espionage cases
Asian-American professionals discussed Saturday how the community is increasingly targeted in economic espionage investigations with attorneys, educators and the Houston FBI.
The day-long forum, held at the Crowne Plaza near Sugar Land, addressed the community’s concerns of being disproportionately targeted for federal investigations of economic espionage, or when an individual steals trade secrets to make money.
“If you are an ethnic Chinese in the technology industry, there is more opportunity for you to be flagged,” Nelson Dong, partner and head of Dorsey & Whitney’s National Security Law Group, told the crowd of over 100. “You have to be thoughtful because in this environment, these are not normal times.”
There are 136 cases and 187 defendants of economic espionage, according to Andrew Kim, visiting scholar at South Texas College of Law. Up until 2008, 72 percent of defendants had Western-sounding names, and 17 percent had Chinese names. But since 2009, over half of people accused of espionage had Chinese names.
“That’s not random, there’s something going on here,” Kim said.
Asian Americans are not only disproportionately accused of economic espionage, but also disproportionately falsely accused. Twenty-two percent of those accused were never proven guilty of the crime — double the rate of those with Western names, experts said.
Panelists brought up the story of Sherry Chen, a former hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Ohio who was falsely accused of spying and arrested in 2014, whose story was recently reported on 60 Minutes. A few months after her arrest, the charges against her were dropped. But she was fired from her job for not being “trustworthy,” and three years and a judicial order later she has still not been reinstated to her position.
Despite the focus on racial profiling in these investigations from both the panelists and the audience, Special Agent Michael Morgan said otherwise.
“We conduct our investigations based on threat, which is defined by vulnerabilities it brings,” he repeated. “It’s not based on ethnicity or the individual.”
Although the local impact of economic espionage of Asian communities is unclear, the concern among audience members was evident. Most of the questions posed were about steps they can take to avoid being scrutinized by the FBI, whether they can participate in talent programs, whether it’s dangerous to work or do research for companies in the U.S. and abroad, and even how to go about reporting other people.