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Mistaken identity

On May 20, 2015, Xiaoxing Xi, a physics professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, gave a lecture at an Irish pub before picking up his wife from the airport and trying out a new Korean fried chicken restaurant with his two daughters.

The next morning before 7 o’clock, Xi and his family woke up to urgent knocking at their door. Xi was shocked to find FBI agents, some armed and others holding a battering ram, standing at his doorway. One agent announced Xi’s arrest and handcuffed him, and other officers brought Xi’s wife and daughters out of their bedrooms at gunpoint.

Agents brought Xi to an FBI field office where they fingerprinted, interrogated, and strip-searched him and took his mugshot. An agent told him he was charged with illegally sharing the blueprints for a pocket heater—a device used in superconductor research—with a Chinese collaborator. Later that day officials released Xi on $100,000 bail and allowed him to reunite with his family. Once he arrived at home, FBI agents arrived with a search warrant and carted away his belongings. 

But the allegations weren’t true: Xi had never shared secret information with China. As his lawyers and other leading physicists proved over the next four months, the blueprints the FBI accused him of sharing were not for the pocket heater but a different device Xi had invented and made public as part of normal academic collaboration. The FBI agent who launched the case had misunderstood complicated technology and targeted an innocent man. In September 2015, officials dropped all charges and returned the evidence, claiming “additional information” had come to their attention.

Yet the damage had been done. For four months, Xi was suspended from his job, his friends stopped talking to him, and his reputation was shattered as media reported on the case. He had mounting legal fees and worried about the effects of the arrest on his wife and daughters. 

Read more at World Magazine

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