CAPAC Chair Calls to Disband Rogue Investigative Unit at Commerce Department

Jul 22, 2021 Issues: Civil Rights

Washington, D.C. — For years, a little-known, rogue unit at the Department of Commerce has been, without authorization, investigating Chinese and Middle Eastern employees based only on their ethnicity. With little accountability, this unit took on law enforcement activities that treated these employees as national security threats based on their race and background. Not only were these investigations unjustified and flawed, they failed to uncover any national security threats despite the thousands of investigations that were opened and the numerous lives ruined. According to whistleblowers, constitutional protections for Asian Americans were regularly ignored in search of proof to justify improperly started investigations.  This is why Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), is calling for this unit to be disbanded.

The existence of the rogue unit comes from  a report released last week by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee.  It finds that the Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) at the Department of Commerce has been conducting “a troubling variety” of investigative activities without proper authorization.

Established during the George W. Bush administration, ITMS was intended to protect the Secretary of Commerce. But under successive administrations, this unit began to engage in law enforcement and counterintelligence activities, despite lacking any proper authorization. According to multiple whistleblowers, this unit overwhelmingly targeted Asian Americans, opening thousands of investigations even without evidence, based only on ethnicity. But, according to the report, these cases were regularly dismissed by Federal prosecutors “based on identifiable flaws in methods”. Meanwhile, many other innocent people have had their careers ruined or jeopardized by these illegitimate investigations. In calling for the disbanding of this unit, Chair Chu issued the following statement:

“It is outrageous that a rogue unit at the Commerce Department improperly assigned itself a law enforcement role that it carried out mainly through racial profiling and without authorization.  It is a shocking glimpse at the overt anti-Chinese prejudice that has ruined so many lives and led to an increase in anti-Chinese xenophobia. There is no place for such racism in our government. While I appreciate that the Commerce Department has opened their own investigation into this unit, I urge the Biden Administration to disband this unit in its current form.

“While there are legitimate national security concerns related to China, investigations that presume guilt based only on one’s ethnicity or familial ties to China are racist and ineffective. They encourage an atmosphere of xenophobic mistrust and put Chinese Americans at risk of losing their jobs, violent attacks, and more. There have been a high number of arrests and investigations of Chinese scientists where the charges are simply dropped, harming careers, ruining lives and discouraging other Chinese Americans from entering STEM fields out of fear they too could become the subject of a prosecution without cause.

“We need to completely overhaul the way this work is done, beginning with a fresh start at Commerce. ITMS’s mandate was for the physical protection of the Secretary, not conducting counterintelligence investigations without authorization or oversight. I am committed to continuing to work with the Administration to ensure our investigative work is rooted in evidence, not prejudice. We must end this rogue unit and rebuild in a more responsible way in addition to finding any and all means of redress for individuals impacted by this blatant abuse of power.”