FBI official admits mistakes, vows to improve relations with Asian American communities

Amid criticism of the FBI’s role in the now-disbanded China Initiative and its lingering repercussions for people of ethnic Chinese or people with ties to China, the FBI is pursuing an outreach effort with a clear message: We recognize the missteps of the past and we seek the community’s help to counter the Chinese Communist Party and its government.

“We really need to take the time to listen to you and your concerns, and we’re not always right and we can always be better. We need open lines of communication,” said Murphy, who moved into Chinese counterintelligence in 2010 and later served on the National Security Council.


Chinese-American scientists fear American racial profiling

Chinese-American scientists fear US racial profiling

Launched in 2018 under then-US President Donald Trump, China’s initiative targeted people suspected of transferring sensitive technologies to China. The FBI investigated hundreds of academics of Chinese descent, but ultimately there were no convictions for espionage. The US Department of Justice ended the program in 2022, under President Joe Biden, following accusations of racial bias and discrimination.

Although the academic and Asian American communities praised the end of the China Initiative, scrutiny of those with Chinese ancestry or any ties to China persists. According to the Chinese embassy in Washington, since July 2021, at least 70 students with valid visas have faced prolonged interrogations and denials of entry to the United States. Among them were students and researchers from Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins, many of whom were returning to the United States after visiting their families. Some were forced to reveal their passwords or hand over their electronic devices.

Community leaders and advocacy groups who participated in the talks at Rice welcomed Murphy’s comments and described the meeting as a “first step” toward promoting transparency and preventing counterintelligence policies and practices from perpetuating the prejudices.

“It is highly unusual that FBI leaders would be willing to attend a Zoom panel discussion that the entire country can view anonymously,” advocacy group APA Justice said, adding that the event was “a huge step forward.” ” for Murphy, who was “a big step forward” much more relaxed and without reading a script.

Gordon Quan, a former Houston City Council member and one of the leading community speakers at the event, said he hoped Murphy’s “message reaches staff on the ground.”

From left, Jill Murphy, Douglas Williams, Gigi Pickering and Kelly Choi of the FBI speaking Thursday in Houston.

“I just want to reinforce that that should be the attitude of the agency,” he said, adding that some past comments made FBI Director Christopher Wray nearly half of all China-related cyber espionage cases had “disturbed” him. .

“We also believe in national security. But by the same token, don’t paint all Chinese with the same brush that you know China is a threat. And if you are Chinese, you are a possible threat,” Quan said.

But Neal Lane of the Baker Institute, a think tank, said in an email that there was “no quick fix” to the damage caused by the China Initiative, which he said had harmed the careers of scientists and families.

“It will take an iterative process and dialogues like this recent one to make progress. These types of events should be held all over the country,” said Lane, who participated in Thursday’s event.

The choice of Houston as the venue for the dialogue was also significant. Home to one of the largest Asian American populations in the United States, the city has been a focal point during some of the most intense moments of tensions between the United States and China.

In 2020, the Trump administration ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston to “protect American intellectual property.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it a “massive spy center.” The consulate remains closed.

People try to talk to someone at the Chinese consulate in Houston on July 22, 2020, after the United States ordered it closed within 72 hours. Photo: AFP

During the live broadcast, Kelly Choi, supervisory special agent of the FBI’s Houston field office, urged Asian Americans to collaborate with law enforcement agencies, whether by reporting crimes to the FBI or to the local and state authorities. She recalled how after the United States closed the Houston consulate, some Asian Americans did not feel comfortable speaking to agents conducting routine interviews.

He said that in recent years, the office had been working with community leaders to improve communication and that the public forum was one of the suggestions that came out of that effort.

Citing possible “misplaced trust,” Choi emphasized the agency’s commitment to improving local engagement and said the FBI sought to foster trust through disclosure.

Douglas Williams, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston field office, said the FBI wanted Asian Americans to trust the FBI “when something happens in this community… that they feel comfortable calling us and that we can investigate it.”

Murphy conveyed the office’s commitment to better understanding the Asian American community and exercising greater discernment in case selection, with the goal of achieving a more respectful and nuanced approach.

“I’m very aware of the need to ensure that we open our investigations into substantiated facts or allegations of things that threaten national security or federal criminal violations,” he said.

Murphy said officers were learning about the “proper way” to talk about the Asian American community, and clarified that any mention of China is directed specifically at the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people.

Quan said making that distinction was important to “humanize” the Asian American community.

Last year, a national survey by the Asian American Foundation found that nearly 80 percent of Asian American respondents did not feel like they fully belonged or were accepted, and nearly a third of Americans viewed Asian Americans as more loyal to their perceived country. originally.

As for next steps, Quan said simple acts like sharing meals, attending community events and connecting in person with agents could facilitate familiarity and help people identify who to contact if they encounter something they find questionable.

“We will take care of doing it and making sure they attend,” he said, stressing that the event in Houston was just a starting point.