For the last year, many Americans have believed that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was targeted for kidnapping last fall by a group of domestic terrorists. New reporting reveals that the scheme was partially orchestrated by the FBI.
As that revelation ripped through social media this week, many people balked at the idea that federal law enforcement would do such a thing. But the FBI is no stranger to fomenting a conspiracy in order to bust it.
Consider that of Dr. Anming Hu, whose life was upended when FBI agents levied bogus spying charges against the now-former professor at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK).
Hu, a nanotechnology expert, lost his position after the government accused him of Chinese espionage, put him on a no-fly list, told his superiors that he was working on behalf of the Chinese military, and concocted false information to surveil him and attempt to strongarm him into agreeing to spy on behalf of the U.S.
FBI agents conceded under oath that those accusations were bogus. Nevertheless, in February 2020, Hu was arrested and charged with fraud. At trial last month, when asked by Hu's attorney Phil Lomonaco if the agency even knew the last time Hu traveled to China, FBI Agent Kujtim Sadiku responded that he wasn't sure, though he had been withholding Hu's passport. Hu testified that Sadiku pressured him over the course of their yearslong investigation to attend a conference in China so that the FBI could "protect" him.
It would soon become clear that was not their goal. The witch hunt was part of the U.S. Justice Department's "China Initiative," conceived in 2018 to target "economic" spies acting on behalf of the Chinese government. The agency zeroed in on Hu because in 2012, he received a contract to teach part-time at the Beijing University of Technology, something he disclosed on his forms with UTK, which hired him in 2013. Sadiku found news of that contract, along with a Chinese speaking engagement, via a Google search in March 2018, which is the sole evidence he used to conclude that Hu was a spy via China's Thousand Talents Plan. The program zeroes in on gifted Chinese citizens who ventured abroad in attempts to attract them back to their homeland. The FBI maintains it is an espionage tool.
A federal jury last month deadlocked on the charges against Hu, and he is still on home confinement. Dozens of other Chinese professors have also lost their posts as a result of the China Initiative.
Hu may have some recourse. In December of last year, the Supreme Court ruled that three Muslim men could sue the FBI agents who tormented them at work, took their passports, and put them on the no-fly list—all tactics also used against Hu—because they refused to spy on their own communities.
That the FBI operates this way still inspires disbelief, but should not. The agency has instructed those in its employ "to bend or suspend the law and impinge on the freedoms of others" when they think it's necessary.
Take the "Newburgh Four" of Newburgh, New York, who in 2009 were arrested for scheming to shoot military airplanes from the nearby Air National Guard base and bomb two synagogues in the Bronx. The men were all convicted and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. But the four did not hatch the plot: An FBI informant was paid to dupe them into joining the imaginary scheme with offers of big cash payoffs. Like the Whitmer plan, it is fairly certain that no such domestic terrorist plot would have developed beyond fantasizing had the FBI not provided resources and encouragement. An appeals court upheld the men's convictions in 2013.
When it comes to Hu, however, the FBI failed to find any proof, despite their attempts to manufacture it. "He said he wanted to protect me," Hu testified last month, referring to his interactions with Agent Sadiku as the FBI sought to drum up espionage charges. "You just wanted to protect me, right? That's what you told me."