Ex-China spy Li Fengzhi faces deportation, again
Former Chinese spy Li Fengzhi probably thought he had it made last month when an immigration judge in Denver granted his six-year long quest to avoid deportation to China, where he says he faces harsh punishment, and possibly execution, for disclosing that he spent 13 years as an agent of the Ministry of State Security.
But this month Immigration and Customs Enforcement appealed the Denver judge’s Oct. 4 decision, once again throwing the future of Li, his wife and their young child into doubt.
According to the Nov. 3 notice of appeal by ICE deputy chief counsel Donald C. O’Hare, Li, 42, asked for asylum on the wrong grounds.
Li, O’Hare wrote, had “failed to establish a well-founded fear of future persecution on a protected ground that his political opinions or religion would subject him to persecution or otherwise exacerbate any criminal prosecution or the consequences thereof.”
O’Hare also contended that Li continues to be “a danger to [U.S.] national security,” despite the absence of espionage charges against him and his extensive debriefing by the FBI and CIA after he applied for asylum.
Ironically, the government first argued that Li failed to qualify for asylum because he really wasn’t a Chinese spy, despite persuasive evidence to the contrary.
As SpyTalk reported in September, Li became an officer in the Chinese Ministry of State Security upon graduation from college in 1990. In 2003, the spy agency sent him to the University of Denver to pursue a PhD in international politics and diplomatic philosophy, during which time he began to voice his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
During a trip home, Chinese security agents interrogated him about his views. When he returned to Denver, he decided to apply for political asylum, on the basis that his increasingly outspoken criticisms would subject him to retribution if he were forced to go back.
Legal analysts say it’s not uncommon for the government to change its arguments when the first ones fail.
But retired FBI counterintelligence agent I.C. Smith, an expert on Chinese espionage who has who has testified on Li’s behalf, said ICE’s appeal “bordered on the absurd.”
“During the [initial] hearings, they were attempting to show that Li wasn't really a spy, he really hadn't been in the employ of the MSS, but instead, was a scholar who has studied up on the MSS to the extent that he was able to pass himself off as a MSS employee.”
Smith added, “I don't think they can have it both ways and if they argue the latter, they have to concede that their claims during the [initial] hearing[s] were bogus.”
One of the mysteries of Li’s case is why neither the CIA or FBI has stepped forward to help keep him from being deported.
The CIA declined to comment. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
Li said he was "disappointed. But I understand that some officials of the government are trying to protect this country and its people, including my kids."
"Nothing in the record shows that I will pose a danger to the security of this great country," he added, citing security investigations of him during his asylum application.
"They have found nothing, because there is nothing. I was not and will not be a danger to the security of the U.S."
ICE missed its 30-day window to file an appeal because of a clerical error, and now faces an uphill battle to persuade the court to accept its papers nonetheless.
| November 16, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories: Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts | Tags: Li Fengzhi
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