Governmental Institutional Racism: A National Security Threat

House and Senate GOP efforts to revive a racist Trump era program targeting people of Chinese heritage are morally repugnant and endanger our national security

Governmental Institutional Racism: A National Security Threat
Original DoJ “China Initiative” logo

When I launched the Sentinel at the start of this year, I noted that a key focus would be on both political and institutional threats to our liberties. Often times those threats to individual rights and personal dignity also represent real, direct threats to our long-term national security. For this issue of the Sentinel, the focus is on the efforts by some House and Senate Republicans to revive the racist and discredited Trump era "China Initiative."

Announced on November 1, 2018, during a speech by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the purpose of the "China Initiative" was to "...identify priority Chinese trade theft cases, ensure that we have enough resources dedicated to them, and make sure that we bring them to an appropriate conclusion quickly and effectively." And to be sure, the Chinese government's efforts to steal both military and commercial trade secrets was and remains real. But from the outset, "China Initiative" prosecutions brought by the Trump administration focused to a disproportionate degree on Chinese American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) researchers with business and/or family connections in China.

Three years after it began, a devastating report from MIT researchers in December 2021 on the "China Initiative" showed just how out of control the DoJ program had become:

  • There was no DoJ definition of what even constituted a "China Initiative" case.
  • Mission creep had infected the program, with the focus shifting from technology theft to "research integrity" at American colleges and universities, with many of those cases later being dropped or dismissed.
  • Many of the cases had little or no obvious connection to national security or the theft of trade secrets.

When called on the racial character of many of the prosecutions (almost 90% of the defendants charged under the initiative were of Chinese heritage), the Biden Justice Department (which had continued the program) literally attempted to disappear material from the DoJ website that involved botched or unwarranted prosecutions. From the MIT report announcement:

"Two days after MIT Technology Review requested comment from the DOJ regarding the initiative, the department made significant changes to its own list of cases, adding some and deleting 39 defendants previously connected to the China Initiative from its website. This included several instances where the government had announced prosecutions with great fanfare, only for the cases to fail—including one that was dismissed by a judge after a mistrial."

It would be over two months after the release of the MIT report before the Biden administration would allegedly end the "China Initiative." I use the word "allegedly" because absent an independent audit of FBI cases and DoJ National Security Division (NSD) records, the public has no way of knowing whether NSD and FBI have, in fact, stopped systematically targeting Chinese American STEM specialists for surveillance, including travel surveillance between the U.S. and China.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that in May 2022, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a report that stated outright that Chinese government intelligence services did not prioritize the targeting of Chinese Americans for espionage or technology theft purposes (p. 7):

(Source: ODNI)

The language here suggests that the assessment in question was completed prior to February 2022.

What we don't know is 1) how much earlier than February 2022, and 2) how wide the distribution of the assessment was within the U.S. government. Both of these questions matter because they go to the heart of whether such an assessment existed before November 2018 (the start of the "China Initiative"), between then and the end of the Trump administration in January 2021, or whether the assessment was only conducted and circulated in the year prior to the alleged end of the "China Initiative."

If this assessment was on the books during the Trump administration, it means DoJ officials deliberately ignored an intelligence assessment stating that Chinese intelligence was not systematically targeting Chinese Americans for recruitment--and that any presumption that they were had no factual basis.

This is all the more important because just one month after the Biden administration supposedly killed the "China Initiative," Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) led several of his GOP colleagues in introducing the "Protect America’s Innovation and Economic Security from CCP Act" (S. 511) to re-established the discredited "China Initiative."

Of particular note is that Rubio is the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). And being the senior Republican on SSCI means that any ODNI or Intelligence Community (IC) assessments on China would be brought to his attention...meaning that Rubio or his SSCI staff may well have known about the "PRC-intel-doesn't-systematically-target-Chinese Americans" assessment referenced above before introducing his bill.

Let that sink in. The senior GOP member on the Senate Intelligence Committee introduced a bill to restart a racist, materially harmful DoJ program that, through bogus prosecutions and the creation of a climate of fear, demonized the Chinese American STEM community...some of whom have left the United States and others are considering doing so for research opportunities in Canada, Europe, or elsewhere. Thus, an overtly racist national security policy is leading to a reverse "brain drain" that can only harm not only American economic competitiveness, but our national security as well--a fact reinforced by coverage earlier this month in The Hill.

So far, the Rubio bill has gone nowhere, but if Republicans retake the Senate and Trump the White House after the November 2024 elections--especially given Trump's virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and alleged mass deportation plans--we could see that critical "brain drain" accelerate. It's another reason why, even if you're like me and not at all thrilled with our electoral choices in 2024, the need to make the right choice has never been clearer.

Read more