Temple prof sues FBI over espionage allegations

 Xiaoxing Xi, the former chairman of Temple University's physics department, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of illegally sharing sensitive U.S. technology with entities in China. (NewsWorks file photo)

Xiaoxing Xi, the former chairman of Temple University's physics department, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of illegally sharing sensitive U.S. technology with entities in China. (NewsWorks file photo)

A Chinese-American Temple University physics professor has filed a civil rights lawsuit against an FBI agent claiming prosecutors falsely accused him of being an international spy.

Shortly after FBI agents, guns drawn, raided Xi Xiaoxing’s house in Montgomery County in 2015, prosecutors realized the blueprints he shared with Chinese researchers did not constitute a case of spying. Rather, Xi was collaborating with other academics.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Philadelphia Monday, Xi accuses the lead FBI agent on the case, Andrew Haugen, of fabricating evidence and telling federal authorities that Xi’s activity was sinister when Haugen knew it was not.

Four months after the raid, federal officials dropped the charges of four counts of wire fraud alleging espionage and returned everything they had seized from his home. Now, Xi said, he should be compensated for the damage to his reputation.

“Professor Xi lived under the cloud of this prosecution, his travel was restricted, he was suspended from his position as the interim chair of the physics department, he was denied access to his lab and to the graduate students working under his supervision,” the suit states. “And he had to pay substantial legal fees to defend himself.”

Xi, a physicist who specializes in the field of thin films used in superconductors, was accused of leaking secret information to a Chinese entity in a project funded by the Department of Defense.

His attorney, David Rudovsky, said the case has alarmed other Chinese-American scientists who collaborate with international colleagues. 

“There certainly appears to be, in that community, a concern — and for some people, a fear — that legitimate collaboration, legitimate investigations and research, will be seen as something else,” Rudovsky said.

Xi, who is now teaching at Temple again, has asked for an undisclosed sum in reparation for the suffering he said he and his family have endured.

The FBI declined comment.

The suit also claims that Xi is the latest example of Chinese-American scientists who have been maliciously prosecuted based on bad intelligence.

“At least three federal criminal indictments of Chinese-American scientists were dismissed prior to any trial,” Rudovsky wrote.

“It should have been very obviously based on the government’s own investigation that Professor Xi did not send anything that was protected, or of national security interest, to the Chinese,” Rudovsky said in an interview. “It was part of academic collaboration, which actually the U.S. government encourages.”

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