In one example cited in the report, the ITMS investigated an award-winning Chinese-born scientist employed at the department on accusations of espionage and providing false statements. Volgens die verslag, the unit interrogated her for hours and referred the matter to the FBI, which then drafted a criminal referral to federal prosecutors. After she was arrested, officials dropped all of the charges.
The report also said in some cases, the investigations resulted in “covert” warrantless searches involving “identity-concealing tactics,” such as the use of facemasks, latex gloves and shoe coverings. The report found the unit also confiscated work phones and computers and picked the locks of offices and personal storage containers. Volgens die verslag, “federal prosecutors regularly dismissed criminal referrals from the ITMS based on identifiable flaws in methods the unit relied upon to obtain evidence.”
One unnamed former senior Commerce Department official cited in the report said they believed this unit’s abuse of power was a result of tense relations between the United States and Chinese governments. The official said they believed that the ITMS did this to counter any attempt at espionage from within the Commerce Department.
The official said the unit’s targeting of Chinese-Americans was a “fine line between extra scrutiny and xenophobia, and one that ITMS regularly crossed,” volgens die verslag.
George Lee, the unit’s longtime director, is cited throughout the report. CNN has reached out to Lee for comment. The New York Times reported he has been placed on leave.
The Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the report and Lee’s employment status.
“It is my duty to ensure that we hold agencies accountable, especially when whistleblowers come forward with information suggesting chronic abuses of power,” Wicker said in a statement with the report. “Congress has a defined role in performing oversight, and I intend to make sure that the federal agencies operate within the proper bounds.”
Wicker launched the investigation in February after the whistleblowers reported abnormal activities involving “abuse of authority, mismanagement and reprisal against” the employees in the department, according to the Senate committee.