Justice Department Flunks Superconductor Science in Physics Prof Case

The last time the FBI whiffed this bad it was called ‘Die Hard.’ Papaspyropoulos

Back in May, a Temple University physics professor named Xi Xiaoxing was arrested for passing trade secrets to China. Xi is a naturalized U.S. citizen and, as the FBI indictment noted, a “world-renowned expert in the field of magnesium diboride thin film superconductor technology.” According to the charges, Xi had emailed restricted information in 2010 to contacts in China regarding a device called a pocket heater. Because superconductor research isn’t, you know, rocket science, the FBI figured that they could parse his correspondence without checking with an expert. No sweat, right?

Except! Big fucking sweat: Xi hadn’t actually sent spy-grade info overseas. As testimony from one of the pocket heater’s co-inventors revealed, the secret plans weren’t pocket heater designs or even that secret — it was, Xi says, simply an international scientific collaboration. On Friday, the Justice Department dropped the charges.

Xi expressed bewilderment that experts hadn’t been consulted from the beginning and called the whole ordeal a nightmare in a statement released over the weekend: His family has “suffered professionally, mentally, physically, and financially.” And, he added, he’s now going to go visit his mom because he had to miss her 90th birthday in June. The salt — justifiably — is strong with this one.

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