Civil Rights Organizations Appeal FBI’s Refusal to Disclose Government Records on the “China Initiative”

July 16, 2021 5:30 pm

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC administratively appealed the FBI’s decision to close their joint FOIA request for records related to the “China Initiative” on Wednesday. The “China Initiative” is a wide-ranging government effort to scrutinize, investigate, prosecute, and take other measures against U.S.-based scientists and researchers believed to have connections to China. The FBI has played a central role in the “China Initiative.”

The “China Initiative” has been framed in dangerous, overbroad terms since its inception. The initiative was accompanied by xenophobic, anti-China rhetoric from the Trump White House, as well as public statements by the FBI director that cast suspicion on virtually anyone with family or professional ties to China — including thousands of accomplished Asian American and immigrant scientists who have contributed to our country for years. These statements have encouraged racial profiling and discrimination, including within the FBI.

The FBI did not identify or release any records in response to the ACLU and Advancing Justice | AAJC’s FOIA request. The agency stated that it closed the request because its Central Records System “is not arranged in a manner that allows for the retrieval of information” that the request identified. The ACLU and Advancing Justice | AAJC’s administrative appeal explains why this response is improper and why the FBI is required to conduct an adequate search for the records described in the request.

Gisela Kusakawa, the NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow at Advancing Justice | AAJC, said: “We continue to be deeply troubled by the government’s overreach. Too many Asian American and immigrant scientists, particularly of Chinese descent, have faced heightened scrutiny from federal law enforcement—ranging from mass investigations and surveillance to unjust prosecutions. As a result of these activities, Asian American and immigrant scientists have lost their research funding, suffered employment backlash, are being deterred from leading grant proposals, and have experienced life-long trauma and severe financial hardships. We are calling for transparency from our government to provide the information requested to address these very serious concerns of racial profiling causing widespread fear of targeting within the Asian American community.”

Charlie Hogle, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said: “The FBI has spent years aggressively pursuing and promoting its ‘China Initiative,’ with devastating consequences for many Asian American and immigrant scientists. The FBI’s claim that it can’t retrieve any records related to those efforts is implausible and unacceptable. The law requires the FBI to find and produce the requested records, which will shed light on this discriminatory campaign.”

The “China Initiative” has caused, and continues to cause, serious harm to people in the scientific research community, especially Asian American and immigrant scientists. It also raises serious civil liberties concerns. Government policies that single out scientists or students for adverse treatment based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin are unconstitutional.

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