Sunday, September 13, 2015

Keystone Kops at the FBI

Complete dummies with the power of arrest!

America drops sale-of-secrets-to-China case against Temple physics professor after making embarrassing - and crucial - evidence error

An American scientist who was accused of being a spy for China has had all the charges against him dropped after the FBI admitted it had made a massive mistake in arresting him in the first place.

Federal agents had claimed they had evidence that Dr Xi Xiaoxing sent the secret blueprints for a sophisticated U.S. device called a 'pocket heater' to Chinese scientists.

But months after the physics professor was led away in handcuffs from Temple University, where he works, the FBI admitted the blueprints they found were not for the heater at all - but for a totally innocuous gadget.

On Friday night, Dr Xi, 57, said in a phone interview reported in the New York Times: 'I don’t expect them to understand everything I do. But the fact that they don’t consult with experts and then charge me? Put my family through all this? Damage my reputation? They shouldn’t do this. This is not a joke. This is not a game.'

Federal prosecutors sought to dismiss the charges on Friday after being confronted with statements from physicists that investigators had misunderstood the technology.

Prosecutors thought Dr Xi was sending information related to a magnesium diboride pocket heater for which he had signed a nondisclosure agreement, his lawyer Peter Zeidenberg said.

When they arrested Xi in May, prosecutors said he had participated in a Chinese government program involving technology innovation before he took a sabbatical in 2002 to work with a U.S. company that developed a thin-film superconducting device containing magnesium diboride.

Superconductivity is the ability to conduct electricity without resistance. A superconducting thin film could be key to making computer circuits that work faster. Films of magnesium diboride are particularly promising for this use, and Xi helped develop a way to make them.

Prosecutors say he 'exploited it for the benefit of third parties in China, including government entities,' by sharing it with the help of his post-doctoral students from China. Xi also offered to build a world-class thin film laboratory there, according to emails detailed by prosecutors in May.

But Xi was sending information about a different device, which he helped invent. It was not restricted technology or supposed to be kept secret by a nondisclosure agreement, Zeidenberg said.

'It was typical academic collaboration,' he added. 'Nobody's getting rich off this stuff.'

In any case, the pocket heater is patented and plans on how to make it can be looked up online, Zeidenberg said.

Asked how the government made such a mistake, Zeidenberg said he didn't know.

The U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia declined to comment on the four-page motion the office filed seeking to drop four counts of wire fraud against Dr Xi.

The motion still must be approved by U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick.

Xi, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, was chairman of Temple's physics department until his arrest. He voluntarily stepped down as chairman and remains a faculty member.

He and his lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg gave a presentation on August 21 to investigators that included affidavits from world-renowned physicists and experts who looked at the emails between Xi and contacts in China.

They explained that he was involved in a scientific pursuit that had a very narrow commercial application and did not involve restricted technology, Zeidenberg said.

'We're very relieved that the charges against my father were dropped,' his daughter, Joyce Xi, said by telephone from the family's home in the Philadelphia suburbs. 'It's been a very difficult time for our family and we're looking forward to regaining some normalcy in our lives.'

Federal prosecutors want the opportunity to confer with their own outside experts and have reserved the right to bring charges again, Zeidenberg said.

'We have no reason to think that that's going to happen,' he said.

Original report here

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