Dusting Off Espionage Charges, Physicist Sues FBI Agent

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – His life turned upside down by now-withdrawn espionage charges, a Temple University physics professor lobbed a federal complaint against the FBI agent he says fabricated the entire controversy.

When a team of agents stormed his Pennsylvania home at dawn on May 21, 2015, Xiaoxing Xi says he was told the charges against him could imprison him for 80 years.

“In essence,” according to Xi’s May 10 complaint, “he was accused of being a technological spy for China.”

As agents led Xi away in handcuffs, his wife and children were allegedly held at gunpoint.

Xi says it took just four months for the basis of the government’s complaint to “collapse[] by its own wrongful weight.”

He filed suit Wednesday against Andrew Haugen, the FBI’s Chinese counterintelligence agent he says concocted the charges from whole cloth.

Though Xi was accused of sharing schematics about a Superconductor Technologies “pocket heater” with China, the professor says “Haugen knew that the STI pocket heater was not a revolutionary device, and that its technology was publicly available.”

The technology discussed was Xi’s own, and Haugen knew it, according to the complaint. Xi says Haugen also knew that the U.S. government even encourages the type of “legitimate normal academic collaborations” he conducted with Chinese scientists.

A U.S. citizen born in China, Xi says his ethnicity likely played a role in his arrest, part of a pattern when it comes to FBI investigations.

“Over a period of 10 months, from 2014-2015, at least three federal criminal indictments of Chinese-American scientists were dismissed prior to any trial,” the complaint states. “This includes dismissal of the cases against Professor Xi (case dismissed in September 2015), Sherry Chen, a hydrologist with the U.S. National Weather Service in Ohio (case dismissed in March 2015), and Guoqing Cao and Shuyu Li, senior biologists at Eli Lilly & Company (cases dismissed in December 2014).” (Parentheses in original.)

In addition to suffering embarrassment and an invasion of his privacy, Xi says the bogus charges “have and will continue to have an adverse impact on his academic career.”

“As a result of his arrest, Professor Xi was placed on administrative leave and was suspended as interim chair of the Physics Department of Temple University,” the complaint states. “Only two days prior to his arrest, Professor Xi had been told by the dean of the university that he would be appointed the permanent chair of the Physics Department. He lost this opportunity due to the false allegations that he was engaged in criminal conduct.”

Just before his arrest, the complaint notes, Xi was the co-principle investigator overseeing nine research projects worth more than $1 million a year in U.S. government funding.

That title was transferred to other investigators after Xi’s arrest, however, and “Xi was not allowed to appear on campus and talk to his students,” according to the complaint.

By the time Xi could resume conducting research in September, he says he had lost valuable time and summer salaries.

Xi also contends that his prosecution has put a cloud over any future work he might undertake, “including advising Chinese students, hosting Chinese visitors, recommending students for employment in China, engaging in joint research projects and exchanging ideas and samples with Chinese colleagues, and serving on proposal review panels in China.”

The professor seeks punitive damages, alleging malicious prosecution, unlawful search and seizure, and violation of his equal-protection rights. He is represented by David Rudovsky, Jonathan Feinberg and Susan Lin with the firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg.

Neither the firm nor representatives for the FBI have returned calls requesting comment.

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