REVAMPING THE WAY THE U.S. DOES COUNTER ESPIONAGE PROSECUTION

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Source: New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has issued new rules that give prosecutors in Washington greater oversight and control over national security cases after the collapse of several high-profile prosecutions led to allegations that Chinese-Americans were being singled out as spies.

The new rules are intended to prevent such missteps, but without undermining a counterespionage mission that is a top priority for the Obama administration.

In December 2014, the Justice Department dropped charges against two former Eli Lilly scientists, Guoqing Cao and Shuyu Li, who had been accused of leaking proprietary information to a Chinese drugmaker. Three months later, prosecutors dropped a case against Sherry Chen, a government hydrologist in Ohio who had been charged with secretly downloading information about dams.

Then in September, the Justice Department dismissed all charges against a Temple University professor, Xiaoxing Xi, after leading physicists testified that prosecutors had entirely misunderstood the science underpinning their case.

“We cannot tolerate another case of Asian-Americans being wrongfully suspected of espionage,” Representative Judy Chu, Democrat of California, said last fall. “The profiling must end.”

While those cases raised the specter of Chinese espionage, none explicitly charged the scientists as spies. The cases involved routine criminal laws such as wire fraud, so national security prosecutors in Washington did not oversee the cases.

In a letter last month to federal prosecutors nationwide, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said that would change. All cases affecting national security, even tangentially, now require coordination and oversight in Washington. That had always been the intention of the rule, but Ms. Yates made it explicit.

“The term ‘national security issue’ is meant to be a broad one,” she wrote.

Ms. Yates told federal prosecutors that consulting with experienced national security prosecutors in Washington would help “ensure prompt, consistent and effective responses” to national security cases.

The letter, which was not made public, was provided to The New York Times by a government official.

John P. Carlin, the Justice Department’s top national security prosecutor,reorganized his staff in Washington in recent years to focus more aggressively on preventing theft of America’s trade secrets. The new rules mean that espionage experts will review cases like Dr. Xi’s. Such cases “shall be instituted and conducted under the supervision” of Mr. Carlin or other top officials, the rules say.

Peter R. Zeidenberg, a lawyer for the firm Arent Fox, who represented Dr. Xi and Ms. Chen, called the new rules “a very positive step.”

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