We have built a database to understand the China Initiative. Then the government changed its records.

The Department of Justice itself has not been very open. As we explain in our main article, DOJ officials have so far failed to provide a clear definition of what constitutes a China Initiative case, or how many total cases there are. she carried. This lack of transparency has made it impossible to understand exactly what the China Initiative is, what it has achieved, and what the costs have been for those disproportionately affected.

“I’d like to see a track record,” said Jeremy Wu, who held senior civil rights and ethics positions in the US government before co-founding the APA Justice Working Group, one of the groups that independently follow the China Initiative. “What have we gained? How many spies have we caught, compared to the damage [been] does not only to individuals, but also to the future of American science and technology? ”

Our database is not that record. But it’s an important step in answering some of the questions Wu asked, questions that the US government has so far failed to answer. On the contrary, it added to the confusion: Two days after we asked for a comment, the Justice Department made major updates to its webpage, removing cases that do not substantiate its account of an effort. successful counterintelligence.

How we did it

This spring, we started searching through all then linked press releases on the Justice Ministry’s China Initiative webpage, followed by another snippet of its data in August. Then, we extracted thousands of pages of federal court records relating to each case and used that information to create our database.

We also combed through additional court documents and public statements from FBI and DOJ officials to find cases that had either been deleted from the webpage or were never included. We then supplemented this information with interviews with defense attorneys, family members of the accused, collaborating researchers, former U.S. prosecutors, civil rights activists, lawmakers, and outside academics who have studied the initiative. We found more cases that had been excluded from the DOJ’s public list but were publicly described as part of the initiative or fit the general pattern of academics accused of hiding links to Chinese institutions, hackers IT supposed to work for the Chinese government, or those accused of illicit technology transfers.

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

Our follow-up efforts were intensified in June, when the Justice Department stopped updating its China Initiative web page. This timeline roughly coincides with the resignation of John Demers, the deputy attorney general who had been in charge of the national security division overseeing the initiative.

Once we built a rough database and analyzed the data, we compared the scores with Wu, from the APA Justice Task Force, and with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AJC, another civil rights group that tracks business, and we shared our early findings with a small group of lawmakers, representatives of civil rights organizations, and academics and asked for their feedback.

What the Department of Justice has changed

On November 19, two days after the MIT Technology Review approached the Department of Justice with questions about the initiative, including a number of cases that we believe were omitted or included in error, the department brought forward major revisions to the China Initiative webpage.

These changes were important, but they didn’t really dispel much of the confusion around the initiative. In fact, in some ways they made it worse.

To the left is the DOJ China Initiative webpage as it appeared on November 18, and to the right is the November 19 webpage, after MIT Technology Review asked questions. Items in yellow have been removed, while items in blue have been added. Find out more about the changes at Webarchive.org.

Although he did not respond to our specific questions, Wyn Hornbuckle, the spokesperson for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, informed us via email that the staff “were in the process of updating. update our web page to reflect some of the changes, updates and layoffs. ”

He also shared the ministry’s own figures. “Since November 2018, we have initiated or resolved nine prosecutions for economic espionage and seven cases of theft of trade secrets related to the PRC. We also brought 12 cases involving fraud against universities and / or granting institutions, ”he wrote.

We found significantly more than 12 search integrity cases, but only 13 of the 23 search integrity cases included in our database are currently on the website. (One of these cases was settled before charges could be laid.) Six of these cases resulted in guilty pleas. Seven are still pending.

Seven of the eight research integrity cases that resulted in dismissals or acquittals were previously included on the website, but the DOJ has now removed them from its list.

Our analysis revealed 12 cases charged with either the theft of trade secrets or economic espionage since November 2018. Ten are listed on the website of the Ministry of Justice. (Two were related prosecutions, although they were charged separately.) Of these 10, seven were charged alone the theft of trade secrets and not the more serious allegation of economic espionage. One of them was charged with both economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. The other two were hacking cases: one included an economic espionage quote and the other a trade secret theft quote.

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

Our subsequent analysis showed that the DOJ had removed 17 cases and 39 accused from its China Initiative page, added two cases[withatotaloffiveaccusedandupdatedtheexistingcaseswithinformationontheconvictionandtrialonthependingcase[withatotaloffivedefendantsandupdatedexistingcaseswithsentencingandtripping[avecuntotaldecinqaccusésetmisàjourlesaffairesexistantesaveclesinformationssurlacondamnationetleprocèslecaséchéant[withatotaloffivedefendantsandupdatedexistingcaseswithsentencingandtrialinformationwhereavailable

Hornbuckle did not respond to a follow-up request to comment on what these deletions say about transparency.

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