Federal agents falsely accused a former University of Tennessee professor of being a Chinese spy, according to court testimony.
FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku said last week that agents falsely accused Anming Hu of being a spy, falsely implicated him as an operative for the Chinese military in meetings with Hu’s bosses, and used false information to place Hu on the federal no-fly list. Sadiku said agents also caused U.S. customs agents to seize Hu’s computer and phone and used false information to justify placing a team of agents to spy on Hu and his son for nearly two years.
Yet more than three years after Sadiku began a national-security investigation into Hu, the agent has not offered any proof that the former professor is or was a spy, according to Knox News.
Sadiku’s testimony comes as Hu is on trial, facing three counts of wire fraud and making false statements.
U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan could rule that prosecutors do not have enough evidence to support its fraud claims against Hu and toss out the case, or he could allow a jury to decide.
The investigation into Hu came after the U.S. Department of Justice publicly announced in 2018 that it had directed federal agents to focus on weeding out “economic” Chinese spies operating in America. The directive was known as the “China Initiative.”
However, Sadiku testified that he did not know about the “China Initiative” when he first ran an “open source” search — a Google search— for information about Hu in March 2018.
He said his search was prompted by information that Hu might be a spy via China’s Thousand Talents Program, which the U.S. government believes is China’s academic-spy-recruitment tool.
Sadiku found a news release written in Chinese and was able to use Google for a “rough translation” that allowed him to understand that the document noted that Hu was awarded a short-term contract in 2012 under China’s Thousand Talents Program to teach students at the Beijing University of Technology.
Hu disclosed his ties to Beijing University of Technology in at least two required forms for the University of Tennessee and again disclosed them in emails with both university officials and a NASA contractor. No one told him that he was barred from NASA work, and he went on to complete two NASA projects before being arrested by federal agents in February 2020.
Now, Hu is accused of plotting to “intentionally” defraud NASA by failing to list his Beijing University teaching work on an annual form at UT. However, the form does not ask professors to disclose ties with China or any other country, only to list any work outside the university that earns them more than $10,000. Hu earned less than $2,000 a year from his work with Beijing University of Technology.
Yet federal prosecutor Matthew McKenzie claimed last week that there is proof that Hu left the Beijing work off the form to avoid the NASA restriction.
“The argument we’ll make is . . . he was involved with this Chinese university for years, and it was obvious he would have to disclose that,” McKenzie said.