Such losses often feed the Chinese propaganda machine and harm American interests. “Any case that goes south, especially one involving a minority community, discredits the Justice Department in the minds of the American people,” said David H. Laufman, an official with the department’s national security division during the Obama administration.
In announcing changes to the China Initiative, Mr. Olsen is expected to say that the Justice Department will treat some cases of subsidy fraud in the future as civil cases, with criminal prosecution reserved for the most egregious cases of fraud, according to the people who have been informed about the matter .
He is expected to note that China is not the only foreign nation that has tried to forge financial and other ties with US researchers in the hopes of gaining valuable information, so the problem is broader than the name of the China initiative suggests. In addition, the Department of Justice will have a revamped process to evaluate whether an investigator has sufficiently disclosed foreign affiliations, which will take into account recently released White House guidelines detailing what investigators should disclose.
It is unclear whether the Justice Department will rename the program, or whether it will investigate espionage and corporate fraud crimes committed by foreign nations, as it has always done, but without a name. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Several Asian-American corporate and civil rights groups, as well as the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told the White House and the Justice Department last spring that the China initiative gave the impression that prosecutors had more intent to target the Chinese people than the Chinese government. The cases involving researchers reinforced that perception.
“Most failed to expose espionage, and the government regressed to paperwork errors to press charges,” said Ben Suarato, a spokesperson for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “There are real national security concerns. We’re just saying that the China initiative was the wrong way to handle them.”
Following his confirmation in October, Mr. Olsen held a series of listening sessions with congressional officials, universities, civil rights groups and national security officials in an effort to allay numerous concerns, including how the initiative might have contributed to racial profiling, according to people briefed at the meetings.