Posted: 2:05 am EDT
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We blogged about the Robin Raphel case in September (see The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?.
In November 2014, we also blogged this: Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.
On October 10, the NYTimes reported that officials apparently now say that the spying investigation has all but fizzled. This leaves the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.
The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.
If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.
Some American investigators remain suspicious of Ms. Raphel and are loath to abandon the case entirely. Even if the government cannot mount a case for outright spying, they are pushing for a felony charge related to the classified information in her home.
The case against Robin Raphel, no longer about spying, just another fight over classified info in someone’s basement http://t.co/1VTovLG7Ns
— Matt Apuzzo (@mattapuzzo) October 10, 2015
Hey, @sulliview – what are you gonna write about Robin Raphel?
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) October 11, 2015
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) October 11, 2015
— Gregory Djerejian (@GregDjerejian) October 11, 2015
— Cynthia Schneider (@schneidercp) October 11, 2015
In the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work. Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.
Are we going to hear soon that the federal officials handling the Raphel case also made some fundamental mistakes and misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft? At least two of these officials leaked the probe to the news media even if no charges were filed against Ambassador Raphel.
This was not a harmless leak. She lost her security clearance, and her job at the State Department without ever being charged of any crime. And in the court of social media, just the news that she is reportedly the subject of a spying investigation is enough to get her attacked and pilloried for treason. Perhaps, the most disturbing part in the report is that the authorities appear to have no case against her for spying, so now they’re considering slapping her with a felony charge under the Espionage Act.
Now, why would they do that?
Perhaps to save face and never having to admit that federal authorities made a mistake or lack an understanding of international statecraft? They could say — see, we got something out of a year’s worth of investigation, so it was not completely useless.
Or perhaps because American investigators still viewed Ambassador Raphel’s relationships with deep suspicion?
Because, obviously, “deep suspicion” is now the bar for an espionage charge?
We should note that the hydrologist, Sherry Chen was cleared of spying charges but was notified in September that she will be fired by the National Weather Service for many of the same reasons the USG originally prosecuted her. Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University had been charged with “four counts of wire fraud in the case involving the development of a pocket heater for magnesium diboride thin films.” The USG asked to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning it could be revived, according to philly.com.
Unlike the Chen and Xi cases, Raphel was never charged and was not afforded the right to defend herself in the court of law. What we have in one case may have been a misunderstanding, a second case, may well have been a mistake, but a third case is certainly, a trend.
This is AG Loretta Lynch’s “Houston, we have a problem” moment.