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sherry chen : My Personal Story -A Modern Day “Witch Hunt” by Our Government(附中文版)
OP 05/13/2016

My Personal Story - Part I

Sherry Chen

 

I want to tell you my story. It is a story that I would never have imagined could happen to me, but it did. It is a story that I would never have believed could take place in this country, but it is playing out right now.

 

A very public arrest by FBI on Oct. 20, 2014

 

My name is Sherry Chen, a very ordinary person and a hydrologist at the National Weather Service. I'm really no different from all the hardworking people in this country. But on October 20, 2014, my life was turned upside down. It was a Monday, and I drove to work at noon as scheduled. After I got into the building, I saw many people loitering and chattering in the hallways. This seemed a little unusual. I greeted them and then headed to my office cubicle. My boss stopped me and asked me to come to his office. I thought he might want me to sign some paperwork for my annual performance review that we just did the day earlier. But he said, “Sherry, someone wants to talk to you.” I said OK. Suddenly, six FBI agents burst out of a conference room next door to his office. One of them showed me a big arrest warrant and another one immediately put handcuffs on my hands. A woman who was the regional supervisor of FBI searched my pockets while others were spread out in the room. Then they read an indictment with four charges and a Miranda warning, something like, “you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.” I was totally shocked and had no idea what was happening. I froze on the spot and asked them to read the indictment again. They did, and I was accused of stealing government property. And they told me that they were going to take me to the Dayton federal court for a hearing. We passed through my co-workers and walked to FBI’s cars in front of our building. When an FBI agent handcuffed my hands from back to front before I got into the backseat of the car, I saw my co-workers were looking through windows and watching me being taken away. I was extremely ashamed as this is kind of scene I only saw on TV when criminals get arrested and taken away by police. Just the day earlier, at my annual performance review, my supervisor gave me very high ratings for my contribution to our agency by significantly improving our river forecast capabilities and much more. How could I become a criminal in less than 24 hours? I was convinced that it was all a mistake and it would be fixed soon.

 

On the way to the Dayton federal court, I asked an FBI agent to read the indictment the third time and asked him what it meant that I stole government property. Was it material or information? He said he could not discuss the specifics. I was still in disbelief and actually was not too scared as I thought it was just a mistake. I was even talking to the two FBI agents in the car as if I was talking to any ordinary people. They seemed very nice to me and asked how old my mom was and how often I went to China to see her. And I also asked them a bunch of questions such as whether I could go back to work, etc. But when we approached a side gate at the court house, one of the FBI agent showed his badge to the gatekeeper and said that they were dropping a prisoner. “Prisoner?” I almost shouted out, “What did you say?” Once we got into the building and with all the heavy metal doors closing one by one behind me, I finally realized what was happening was real.


A nightmare turned real

 

Just as you would see on TVs, they took my finger prints, my DNA sample, and put ankle bracelet on me as well. A public defender was already there for me as FBI had checked my financial situation and determined that I could not afford a private lawyer. A prosecutor read the indictment again at the court hearing and said that the maximum penalty would be 25 years in prison and a million dollars in fine. Yes, it was real. I was facing serious charges.

 

After the court hearing, I was allowed to go back home as I had no prior criminal records. My husband came and took me home and was totally shocked as well. My heart and my brain became numb. I just kept saying the same sentence: “what has happened to me? What has happened to me?” Just a few minutes after we got home, someone was knocking on our door. I opened the door. A man stood there and told me that he was a Fox News reporter and wanted to interview me about the indictment. I said I had nothing to talk about and closed the door. Then, other reporters started knocking on my door one after another. I never opened the door again and closed window curtains as some TV trucks were parked outside my house and starting to shoot videos. Then they went to my neighbors one by one doing interviews. It became dark but they were still out there and shooting videos around my house. I turned on TV at evening news time and saw all local channels were reporting my arrest. They said my neighbors were all shocked and wanted to know more about what happened as I was their neighbor. I turned on my computer and saw the news were on the internet as well. I couldn’t stop shaking as if the sky was falling. I went to bed after midnight but was woken up by several phone calls, one from a retired co-worker, one from a former colleague, and one from my best friend as they all heard about the news. The last call was from my brother in China. Usually I would make the calls to them (to save them money). He said that all the family members were there except for my mom and they had heard the news and were extremely worried. That was the first time I came back from numbness, and I burst into tears and could not control it anymore. I heard my brother also crying on the other end of the line, and I had never seen him crying before in my life. Another one crying was my husband and I had never seen him crying either. My brother said, “You have been protected by your brothers and our parents since you were little as we only had one girl in our family. You always behaved yourself and never caused any trouble. You had a good job in Beijing but wanted to go to the U.S. to study. You became a U.S. citizen and you have been working so hard over the years for the U.S. What did you do to deserve this punishment?” What did I do? I don’t think I did anything wrong. Why is our government treating me like this? I don’t have the answer. I love this country, my job, and my friends here. I used to tell people in China about the blue sky during the day, the clear stars during evenings, and the air that was always fresh in Ohio. Why has everything changed now? Why is the sky not that blue, and where are the stars? And why could I even not breathe?

 

I was charged on four counts - stealing data, intentionally exceeding authorized access to a database, and two false statements, meaning that I lied to investigators. What had happened?

 

Just how did this all start?


In the spring of 2012, I went back to Beijing, China to visit my elderly parents as usual. My parents were close to 90 years old and were not in good health. I haven’t taken much vacation since I came to the United States as I always tried to save my annual leaves to visit my parents as much as I could. But on that fateful trip, my nephew came to see me and said his father-in-law was in a dispute with the local water bureau over a water pipeline project.

 

My nephew somehow found out that one of my former college classmates, Mr. Jiao Yong, was now the vice minister of China’s Ministry of Water Resources, and begged me to reach out to Jiao for help. I turned him down since I had not seen Jiao for years but I eventually gave in after repeated pleas by my nephew. He told me that his father-in-law became very sick as the issue had dragged on for a long time. I felt I had no choice but to help him. And so I called Jiao’s office. And Jiao’s sectary set up a 15- minute appointment for the following morning. Jiao was actually surprised to see me after over 10 years. I told him about my nephew’s father-in-law’s problem. We also chatted a little bit about our jobs. After realizing that I was working in the same field as he was, Jiao said, “by the way, we are trying to figure out how to fund the repairs of the aging reservoirs in China. I am curious how the U.S. manages that.” It was a professional chat as we are in the same field. But I didn’t have the answers since I was not familiar with the water management area. I said I would check it out. After I came back to the U.S. I did some online research and went to my supervisor to see if he knew where I could find some information for this general public question. My supervisor referred me to Debbie Lee, Chief of the Water Management Division of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE or ACE) at their Cincinnati office. My supervisor told Lee that I was looking for some water management information for the public, and asked her to work with me. I called Lee whom I had worked with for several years. I told her right away that I went back to China to visit my parents and met my former classmate who wanted to learn something from the U.S. in terms of how to manage water resources and repairing aging reservoirs. Lee pointed me to the USACE website and said that my former classmate could call her with any additional questions. So I did what she told me. I emailed Lee’s office main number to Jiao along with links to several public government websites. But I could never have believed that Lee would report me to the USACE security office immediately after our phone call. In the beginning of her email to the security office of ACE, Lee wrote, “She is a U.S. citizen but a Chinese National. … … I’m concerned that an effort is being made to collect a comprehensive collection of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water control manuals on behalf of a foreign interest”. Lee was wrong. Yes, I originally came from China, but I am not a Chinese National. I am a U.S. citizen. But why would Lee do that and put me through a tormenting nightmare? Was her suspicion only based on my ethnicity and national origin?


我的故事 —上篇
陈霞芬


我想给您讲一个故事,这是一个我从来都不曾想到会发生在我身上的故事,但是它确实发生了。这是一个我绝不相信会发生在美国这样一个国家的故事,但是它不仅确实发生了而且还在继续着,还没有结束。


天塌地陷的一天


我叫Sherry Chen(陈霞芬),是一个普普通通的美国公民。我在美国国家气象局(NWS)上班,是那里的水文学家,和美国所有努力工作的人一样。然而2014年10月20日,我的生活发生了天塌地陷的变化。


那天是星期一,中午我象往常一样开车去上班。进了大楼,我看见很多人在过道里谈话,感觉和平时不太一样。我一边和大家打着招呼一边往我的座位走去,我的老板走过来说让我先去一下他的办公室。我想他大概是要我在前一天我们刚刚讨论过的“工作表现评定”上签字吧。可是他却说:“Sherry,有人想和你谈谈。”我说好啊。突然间,从我老板办公室旁边的会议室里冲出来6个FBI特工。其中之一向我出示了一张大大的逮捕证,另外一个立刻给我铐上了手铐。地区FBI主管是位女士,她搜查了我的衣兜。其他几个分别站在房间各处。他们向我宣读了起诉书,上面有四条指控,还读了米兰达警告(Miranda warning),我记得好象是:“你有权保持沉默,你所说的一切都能够被用来在法庭上作为控告你的证据。”


我完全懵了,不知道这究竟是怎么回事。我站在那儿,请求他们把起诉书再念一遍。他们就真的又念了一遍。什么?偷窃政府财物?!我还没有醒过神来,他们又对我说要立刻带我到Dayton联邦法院的听证会去。我们从围观的同事中间穿过,走到FBI停在楼前的汽车旁边。在我上车之前,一个FBI把我的双手从铐在身后,改成铐在身前,那时候我看到我的同事们都站在窗前看着我们,看着我这样被带走。我感到莫大的屈辱啊,因为从来都只是在电视上看到罪犯被FBI这样逮捕,但这样的事怎么会发生在我身上?仅仅就在一天之前,我老板做我的2014年度“工作表现评定”的时候,他还高度赞扬了我为局里所作的贡献,说我的工作显著提高了我们对河流的预报能力,等等等等。我怎么会在24小时之内就变成了罪犯?我安慰自己肯定是什么地方搞错了,问题很快会得到纠正。
去Dayton联邦法院的路上,我请求一个FBI再一次把起诉书念给我听,而且问他们“偷窃政府财物”究竟是什么意思?是指东西呢,还是信息?他说他不可以和我具体讨论。我仍然处于一种完全不相信的状态,都没有感到很害怕,因为我觉得这都不是真的。可是,当汽车开到法院的侧门,一个FBI把他的徽章亮给门卫看,说道:“我们押来一个罪犯。”那时候,我突然惊醒:“罪犯?!”我几乎喊出来:“你说什么哪?”然而,当我们进入法院大楼,当一扇扇沉重的金属大门在我身后隆隆地关闭,我才意识到发生的这一切确实都是真的。


噩梦成真


就象您在电视上看到过的那样,他们取了我的指纹,采集了我的DNA,手铐之外又加了脚镣。FBI已经查过我的经济状况,他们认为我没有经济能力聘请律师,他们找来的公共律师已经等在这里了。检察官在法庭上又一次宣读了起诉书,而且说最重的判决可能是25年刑期和一百万美元的罚款。是的,这一切都是真的,这是一个非常严重的指控。


法庭听证会之后,因为我从来没有犯过罪,他们允许我回家。我老公来接我回家,他和我一样彻底懵了。我的心和我的大脑全都木了,我只会重复一句话:“到底发生了什么?到底发生了什么?”我们刚到家没几分钟就有人来敲门。我打开门,一个男人站在门口,自我介绍说他是Fox News的记者想要采访我。我说:“我不想说任何事。”,就关上了门。可是,从那时起各个媒体的记者开始络绎不绝地来敲我的家门。我们再也没敢打开房门,而且把窗帘都紧紧拉上,因为好几个电视台的采访车已经停在我家门外开始拍摄了。然后他们就一个接一个地采访我们的邻居。天黑了,可是记者们仍然在外面围着我家房子拍摄。晚间新闻的时候我打开电视,发现所有本地的电视台都在报导我被逮捕的事,报导里说:我的邻居们都非常震惊。我打开电脑,发现网上也已经有这条新闻。我不停地颤抖,完全无法止住,就好象天正在塌下来。


直到午夜之后我才上床睡觉,但是被好几个电话吵醒了。一个电话来自一位退休了的同事,一个来自一位前同事,还有一个来自我最要好的朋友——他们已经都听到了关于我的新闻。最后一个电话来自我远在中国的哥哥,从来都是我打电话给在中国的亲人们,但这是他们第一次从中国给我打电话。哥哥说:除了妈妈以外,全家人都在他旁边,他们也听到了关于我的新闻,感到极度担忧。直到这时我才第一次从麻木的状态中醒来,泪水夺眶而出,我开始无法抑制地大哭起来。我听见从电话里传来哥哥的哭声,我一生之中从来没见哥哥哭过。另外一个我从来没见他哭过,而现在也在痛哭的男人正是我的老公。哥哥对我说:“作为家里唯一的女孩儿,从你小时候起,父母和我们兄弟几个都特别保护你。你一直是个乖孩子,从来不惹任何麻烦。你在北京本来已经有个很好的工作了,可是你偏偏想去美国学习。这些年来你在美国非常努力地工作。你到底做了什么他们要这样惩罚你?”我做了什么?我没有做任何错事啊!!为什么我的国家要这样对待我?我无从知道答案。我爱这个国家,爱我的工作。我还喜欢这里的环境,蓝天白云和璀璨星空,空气总是那么新鲜。为什么现在我觉得一切都变了。为什么天不再蓝了?为什么星星都消失了?为什么我好象无法呼吸了?

我被指控了四条罪状,偷窃数据,有意地越权使用数据库,还有两个错误的陈述——意思是我对调查人员撒了谎。到底是哪里出了问题呢?所有这一切都是因为我曾经在中国以非常偶然的原因见了一位以前的同学。


发生这一切的缘由


2012年5月,我象以前一样回北京看望年迈的父母,他们已经90高龄而且身体都不太好。从我来到美国起,就没怎么度假旅游过,因为我总是把自己所有的假期积攒下来,都用于回北京尽可能多地陪伴父母和家人。那次在京期间,我的外甥告诉我他的岳父和当地水利局之间发生了一些纠纷。
我外甥知道我以前的一个同学,是当时中国水利部的副部长矫勇,所以就请求我帮他联系,希望他能帮助解决纠纷。我立刻拒绝了,因为我和这个老同学已经有很多年没见过面了。但是我外甥说这件事长期得不到解决,导致他岳父积郁成疾,病得很重。在外甥的反复请求下,我最终心软答应了。矫的秘书安排了一次15分钟的见面。多年不见,他见到我也有点惊讶。我们谈了我外甥岳父的事,之后又随便聊了聊各自的工作。当得知我和他一样,还是在水利领域工作,因为矫勇正负责对水资源的管理和大坝维修资金的预算分配他就问这方面美国是如何弄的。这纯粹就是一般的的聊天。我当时对这方面也并不了解,但我的工作职责之一是回复公众的询问,所以我表示以后会了解一下。


回到美国后,我在公开的网站上进行了查找,并询问了我在气象局的老板是否知道在哪里能找到可以提供给公众的公开资料。我老板让我向Deborah Lee咨询。于是我就打电话给她,开门见山地讲了我回国探亲期间见到以前的同学,以及这个同学提出了什么问题。她让我去看USACE的网站,还说如果我的老同学有更多问题的话,可以直接给她打电话。我完全是按照Deborah Lee所说去做的。我把她办公室总机的电话号码和几个向公众开放的政府网站地址一起发给了我的老同学。我万万想不到:刚刚挂断和我的通话,Deborah Lee就向USACE的安全部门举报了我。在那封举报的电子邮件开头,她写道:“她是中国公民”,我怀疑她正在为了外国利益而搜集信息。她错了。我是美国公民而不是中国公民。她产生对我的举报仅仅因为我来自中国,我是华裔美国人。 但是她为什么会如此这般把我推进这样的折磨和噩梦呢?这仅仅是一种个人的偏见还是别有用心的恶意呢?(请读下篇)


(更多资料可参看我的网站:http://www.sherrychendefensefund.com/ sherry chen专题网站:http://newasianleaders.org/sherry-chen

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05/13/2016

My Personal Story - Part II

Sherry Chen

 

Previously in Part I of my story, I made a call to Lee as instructed by my boss and explained the situation to Lee. But unbeknownst to me, Lee reported me to the USACE security office right after our phone call. Why would Lee do that and put me through a tormenting nightmare?

 

A personal prejudice, grudge, or some misplaced patriotism?

 

Looking back, Debbie Lee had a long history of being difficult when we needed to interact with each other. But I never had personal disputes with her and she had officially requested my assistance with tasks at her agency (USACE) before. And our office once had a joint project with her office and several other agencies to develop a large hydraulic model called the Ohio River Community HEC-RAS Model. Lee questioned my data requests over and over again and also argued with our agency. Our management told her repeatedly that my data request was reasonable and eventually our agency had a big dispute with her. One of our management who was in charge of coordinating with all agencies filed a complaint to the Hydrologist in Charge of our office and said he would not talk to Lee again until she apologized. So given that history did my 5-minute phone conversation with Lee give her an opening she needed to take her retribution against me and the National Weather Service (NWS)? I don’t know Lee’s motive. Is it a personal prejudice because of my ethnicity, or a personal grudge because of past dispute with our agency, or maybe some misplaced patriotism? But for anyone with a reasonable mind and a clear head, would they even consider this as “espionage” when I had presented all the information openly in public and had followed all the intra- and inter-agency processes in transparency? Lee has since left ACE as she was promoted to the Department of Commerce (which is in charge of our agency) and she has never offered a word of apology.

 

It was my job to answer public inquiries

 

At the National Weather Service, we provide weather and water related data and service to the public, including daily weather forecasts and river level forecasts, etc. Our duty is to serve the public. Our office receives all kinds of requests everyday by phone or through email etc., from government agencies, industries, and the public. We get questions such as, “how high is the river level in my city?” “Can I go fishing or boating tomorrow?” I remember on the very first day I came to work, the phone was ringing off the hook as some rivers were flooding and people wanted to know if their buildings or homes would be safe from the flood. Answering public inquiries is part of our job. Whoever receives the call should answer the questions. And if you don’t have the answer, then you need to find the information or answer.

 

While I was trained to answer public inquiries, was I wrong in trying to answer Jiao’s question? I don’t think so, and neither do my NWS colleagues. Actually, the NWS mission statement clearly states that “NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure which can be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community.”


Trent Schade, my supervisor, when questioned by federal investigators about my efforts to respond to my former classmate’s inquiry, commended me for being conscientious in my handling of the request. And when asked if I had violated any policy, protocol, or process, Schade stated, “what she did was consistent with what a good performer would do: continue to follow up. If ACE can’t share the information, we need to say that. In that case, I hope she would make sure the request is being handled. If a data request comes in, don’t let it go. Talk to ACE [and] put the two parties together and ensure it’s handled.”

 

A relentless Inquisition

 

After Lee’s misinformed “spy” tip-off, the USACE security immediately contacted the security section at the Department of Commerce (“DOC”) to which the NWS belongs. A task force of seven security agents was formed at the DOC four days later. And it was called “Counter Intelligence/Criminal”. The covert investigation soon started and lasted about one year without my knowledge before two investigators finally showed up in my office in June 2013. They conducted a 7-hour grueling “interview”. And since I had been working non-stop for 4 hours straight running real-time river forecasting operation, I went through a total of 11 hours without food, drink, or break. And they told me I could not tell this to anyone and I didn’t need a lawyer. I did not realize at the time that I had become a shooting target and serious troubles were awaiting me as I never had to deal with the law enforcement before. They didn’t explain the purpose of the interview but only said that they just wanted to ask a few questions. I tried to do my best to answer all their questions. However, their questions kept jumping back and forth, and mainly about things happened a year or so ago. I tried to recall all the details such as the exact time and place. But after hours and hours of questioning, I was exhausted and confused. I couldn’t remember a few details clearly but was able to recall better after they showed me some old emails. At the end of the interview, I wrote it all down about what happened when I was in China and what I did with Jiao’s questions. And that summary is all correct and accurate recounting the sequence of events.

 

It was quiet for three months. In September 2013, I went to China to visit my parents in China, and my father had been very ill and passed away when I was there. On the first day back to work, around 7:30 am, my supervisor said the two investigators came back and wanted to talk to me again. I went to the conference room. The first thing they asked me was, “why did you go back to China? Who did you meet? Who did you stay with?” I felt very insulted this time. I thought to myself why they would be asking this kind of questions. But I explained to them that my father was very sick and passed away during my visit. I was struck with worries and had to arrange the last minute visit to see my father one last time. They asked me some other ridiculous questions. I was still in grief and I became quite upset with all this nonsense. I said to them, “are you guys coming all the way from DC just to ask this?” I was annoyed, and perhaps I pissed them off. I never heard from them again, but I learned later that they had escalated the case to FBI and other intelligence offices.

 

In September 2014, I went back to China on the first anniversary of my father’s death. My husband and I were stopped by the Homeland Security at the Newark Airport after we had gone through all the security checks and we were just one step away from boarding the airplane. The officers did a special search of our carry-on bags and also retrieved our checked-in suitcases
from the cargo hold. There were several hundred people on the plane and they had to wait for about an hour before we were allowed to board. It seemed like everyone on the airplane looked at us with irritation. The person who sat next to me said, “Are you late?” I said yes, then I just kept silent. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know exactly what.

 

On our return to the U.S., we were stopped and questioned again at the Newark airport. As I was standing in a long queue to go through a security check point, several agents came to me and took me upstairs and asked me some questions, and then they went into another room. They came out after a long time in that room, and then led me back downstairs to the waiting line. I had a transfer fight from Newark to Columbus, but I was too late to catch the flight now, and I had to stay there overnight for a flight the following morning. Two days later, on October 20, 2014, I was arrested in public in my office and was officially indicted by the government.

 

While the long investigation failed to produce any “spying” evidence, part of the initial charges was centered on the use of an office password to a government database to which I had full right of access and I used the database for the Ohio River forecasting model I was working on. When the investigators asked one of my co-workers whether he had shared the password with me, he said no. They also asked me whether I used his password, I also said no. When the investigators showed us the email, in which the co-worker emailed the password to me, my co-worker said, “Not really, Man, That was years ago, trying to remember….” I also recalled the exchange after seeing the email. I probably don’t have the best memory anymore and so did my co-worker even he is about 10 years younger than I. And the similar memory lapses or mix-up also happened to another colleague during the investigation. But I was charged for lying to the investigators. So why was I singled out? Is it just because I am of Chinese ethnicity?

 

The indictment changed my life in totality. The same day I was indicted, I was suspended from work and our office immediately changed the combination code. My neighbors and people I know were staying away from me as they didn’t know whether I was innocent or not. My house suddenly became silent, no phone calls and no visitors. I felt so lonely and missed my family so much, especially my mom. I didn’t know if I would ever see her again.

 

In the following days, the news also spread all over the internet including in China, with headlines like “a hydrologist at the NWS met a Chinese official in secret; national database was breached; Spy for China; etc. etc.” I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept crying every day. I didn’t want to go outside to be seen. I didn’t even do grocery shopping for a month. Then, the government stopped my pay and I had no income. I also felt that I was being monitored and wire-tapped, and so did my friends. Right now I am not able to pull myself together to describe how my husband and I went through this horrible mental and psychological trauma. Maybe someday I will.

 

Fighting to get my life, job, and dignity back

 

A week later, I slowly came back to my senses. I realized that I could not just cry and I needed to fight to clear my name as I am innocent and I don’t deserve any of this shoddy treatment. I opened the indictment to see what was in it. When I looked at the case description on the indictment, I felt so hopeless. It says, “The United State vs. Xiafen Chen”. Is the whole country
against me, a simple ordinary individual? There were so many government agencies involved in the investigation of this case. They used some very advanced spying technology that I only heard of in fictions or on TVs. The government had all the resources at its disposal, while I was not even able to afford a lawyer. But I had to hire a lawyer as the public defender assigned to me by the government had no experience with this type of case. I found a very good lawyer, but the law firm where he works required a large chunk of money for retainer before my lawyer could officially represent me at the court. My family in China did everything they could to raise the deposit money to help me.

 

After reviewing my case carefully, my lawyer found several serious flaws in the government case and filed three motions requesting the DOJ to have the case dismissed. But the prosecutor just went back to the grand jury to “fix” those serious problems in their case, and brought another prosecutor onto his team and they came back with eight charges! But after about two and half years of going back and forth, the extensive interview of witnesses including almost all my co-workers, the search of the entire history of my bank accounts over twenty years since I came to the U.S., my personal and official email accounts, and the airport searches, plus the hidden device in my computer to monitor my activities, the government finally dropped all the charges against me.

 

Yes, all the charges were dropped, but my career, my reputation, and my life are now totally ruined. The National Weather Service would not let me go back to work as the Department of Commerce is now proposing to terminate my employment. The DOC claimed that terminating my job is to help promote federal efficiency. But a high official at the National Weather Service told our Union President that I was an outstanding employee. FBI went through all my performance reviews over the twenty years of my government service, and summarized that I had consistently received positive performance reviews with highly satisfactory or outstanding rating. I put my heart into my job and gave my best to this country. I have been working very hard to help protect properties/homes, and save lives. And I have received several government rewards for my contribution. But as of now, I am not sure what is going to happen next. I am facing an uncertain future no matter how much I wish to put this long and tormenting nightmare behind me, and to move on with my life.

 

In spite of what has happened to me, I am going to keep fighting to get my job, life, and dignity back. And I do need help in this fight, a fight for justice, a fight for all law-abiding, hardworking Chinese Americans. I will appreciate any support you may be able to provide. Thank you!

 

Yours truly,

Sherry Xiafen Chen

On Christmas Day, December 25, 2015


我的故事 —下篇
陈霞芬

在我的故事的上篇,我按照老板的指示给李打了电话,并对李说明了所有情况。但刚刚挂断和我的通话,Deborah Lee即向安全部门举报了我。
个人偏见和恶意还是偏颇的爱国心?


对我来说Deborah Lee并不是陌生人,我们在工作中已经有过不少接触。她是美国ACE(Army Corp of Engineers)水资源管理分部辛辛那提办公室的主任。我们办公室和她们办公室有个合作项目,由我负责来建立一个大型水力模型,供好几个机构使用。她曾经很多次刁难我对数据的需要。我们办公室的管理人员不断地向她解释我要的数据都是必需的,终于和Deborah Lee就此发生了激烈的争论。其中一位负责协调各个机构的管理人员向我们气象局的主管办公室正式提交了投诉,并且宣称他将不再和Deborah Lee说话,除非她道歉。因此考虑历史, 我与李5分钟的电话交谈也许正是她等了好几年的机会,终于可以下手了。


我不好说李的真实动机。也许这是她个人的偏见,或是因为我的种族, 或是因为过去与我们的机构间的争执,或者是错位的爱国主义?但在我提供了所有的背景情况,并且特意告诉她只要公开的信息后, 对于一个有理性的清醒头脑的人,谁会认为这是“间谍”呢?李后来离开了ACE, 晋升到商务部。


回答公众的咨询是我工作的一部分 给公众提供服务是我们的职责。国家气象局的使命之一就是:“国家气象局的数据和资讯组成了国家级的数据库,可以被提供给其他政府部门,私营机构,公众,和外国机构。”我们向公众提供和气候有关的信息和资讯,包括每天的天气预报以及河流预报。我们的职责就是服务大众,因此我们办公室每天都会通过电话或者电子邮件收到五花八门的询问,其中包括这样的问题:我所在城市的河水水位是多少?明天我可以去钓鱼或者划船吗?我记得自己第一天到气象局上班那天,因为有河流泛滥,公众不停地打电话来问他们的房子是否会被洪水淹到。回复公众的问题是我们工作职责的一部分,无论谁接到询问的电话都得作出回答。如果不知道答案,那我们就必须弄明白从哪里可以得到答案。


当联邦调查人员让我的老板Trent Schade 评价我回复矫勇所问的问题时,他回答说:我对于咨询的处理是负责任的。调查人员又问他我在这个过程中是否违反了任何规定、条例、或者程序,他说:“Sherry所做的事是一个好的员工应该做的,如果ACE不能分享那些信息,我们可以这样说明。在这件事上,我希望她确保处理了这个询问的请求。如果有数据的查询要求,不要不予理睬。应该和ACE沟通,并让双方取得联系以保证请求得到处理。”



无情的审问


在接到Deborah Lee的举报之后,商业部(DOC)的安全部门立即成立了一个由7名专业特工人员组成的,名为“反信息/经济间谍活动”,特别调查小组。秘密调查很快就开始了,并且在我毫无觉察的情况下持续了大约一年之久。


直到一年以后,在2013年6月,一件奇怪的事情发生了。 2个美国商业部的特工人员一清早就出现在我所在的单位,听说是找我的一个同事。 这个同事与2个特工人员谈了2小时后,出来对我说:Sherry,他们也想找你谈谈,我以为每个人都会被询问。我进屋后看到有两个人坐在那里,他们出示证件后开始与我随便交谈起来。 谈的都是不着边际的话。 例如:你们楼里有多少人? 都做什么? 你什么时候来的? 做什么项目?这样转来转去。 大约2小时后,开始问我,你开发这样大的河流模型,有人用吗?我介绍说:很多美国大公司,大学,很多国家机构都使用。又问,国际上有人用吗? 我说:没有,因为这个是给美国几条大河用的。又问,有人问关于美国水量,修复大坝的资金来源的问题吗?我说:“有的,我的一个老同学,在我上次回国时问的。”从那时起,才正式开始他们真正想要问的的问题。 让我详细讲述一年前我回中国的情况,一天一天,一件一件事地回忆,特别详细的讯问关于我和我的老同学见面后的情况。


这两个特工在这件事情上连续盘问了我4—5个小时。 翻来复去,从东到西,从这到那,一会儿中国,一会儿美国,我根本就不明白他在问什么。经数小时的2人轮番发问后,我被弄得精疲力尽,再加上这次审问是在我已经紧张工作了4个小时,进行实时河水预报之后才开始的,我早已疲劳到了极点,我的大脑里像是一团浆糊,在连续的11个小时里,我没有吃饭,没有喝水,没有休息。


最后他们又让我写一份详细的有关情况介绍。他们还让我在最后写上,“I gave the info freely.”并且签字。 这好像是法律上的东西。 我说:我需要律师。 他们说:你不需要律师。 我现在真的不需要律师吗? 他们说:真的不需要律师。我说我要和我的Boss Trent谈(Trent是我们那里的主管),他们说:你为什么要找Trent谈。 我说因为他是我的Boss。我永远也不会忘记。 其中一个领头的特工指着他自己的鼻子对我说:你如果要告诉他,你必须先告诉我。 他的样子令人非常恐惧。他们还告诉我不能向任何人提起审问7个小时的事。 他们终于让我回家了。我疲劳极了,回家的路上我险些把车开到路边的草地里去。


我是一个从来没有跟法律打过交道的人,不知道这一切都意味着什么,而且都压在心底没有和任何人讲,包括律师。 我一方面觉得没什么,因为我没有做错任何事,另一方面又觉得这事不对头。可我万万没有想到,一场暴风雨正在悄悄地向我袭来。在上次的审讯中,我告诉过他们:我基本上每年回中国一趟去看我年迈的父母及家人。而且当时已经买好机票将于9月回中国去。


三个月后,2013年9月,当我从中国探望父母回来之后,第一天去上班。大约早上7点半,我的上司说,两名特工人员又来了,想和你再谈谈。我去了会议室。他们一上来就问我:你回中国了?为什么回去?都和谁见面了?在中国时都住在哪里?接着又详细地问了我很多问题。 这一次我不是很高兴。我想:上次我已经回答了他们所有的问题。可还是向他们解释:我父亲病得很厉害,并且在我逗留期间去世了。我的心都碎了,不得不忙着安排父亲的后事。他们还问我一些其他问题。我对他们说:“你们从DC远道而来就是为了听我说这些?”心里想,多少纳税人的钱被你们浪费在这种荒唐的调查上?以后他们再也没回来找过我。后来,我才知道,他们把此案升级到了司法部,并且更深入的调查已经转交给了FBI。


机场搜查


从那以后,一切恢复了正常, 再也没有人来找我的麻烦。 又过了一年,直到2014年9月,我回北京去祭奠父亲周年祭日。 我和丈夫在纽瓦克机场托运完行李,顺利通过了安检,到了登机口。开始登机时,当我们只差几步就进入机舱门的时候,一个穿着黑制服带着枪的男人拦住了我,问我是否有护照?我回答:“早已查过了”。但还是把护照递给他,紧接着又来了一个女工作人员。 他们打开了一扇紧挨着机舱的空空的大房间,说要检查随身行李,我说已经检查过了,但他们还坚持要检查。我说:飞机就要起飞了。他们说没关系。


所有的随身行李都被翻了个底朝天。我以为这下可以登机了,但发现另外几个人又把我们托运了的行李拿了进来。这时早已超过了起飞时间,已经登机的几百个人都在等着这架飞机起飞。 我们所有的大箱子也都被打开了,一件一件地检查,箱内的东西被弄得满地都是,似乎并没有他们要找的东西。 彻底检查之后,我们赶忙把行李收拾好,立刻奔向机舱。 这时大家已经等了近一个小时了,进入机舱后,我觉得大家的眼睛都在盯着我们看。 坐在我旁边座位上的人问:“你们来晚了?” 我只好回答:“是的。”之后就再也没说话。这次特别的检查,让我觉得一定是出了什么事,但是并不明白究竟。


从北京回来的时候,纽瓦克机场人很多,我们和大家一起排着长队入关。 突然有两个人把我们从队伍中叫出来,说要请我们上楼去。 在楼上他们问了我们几个问题, 便进到后面的一个房间,半天才出来说:“你们可以下楼了。” 这么一耽误,我们没有赶上回家的飞机,不得不临时住了一晚, 乘坐第二天一早的班机回家。两天之后就是2014年10月20日—我被逮捕和起诉的日子。


被起诉改变了我生活中的一切。气象局立刻停止了我的工作,改换了进门的密码。我的邻居和朋友们都避开了我,因为他们并不知道我究竟是否有罪。家里突然变得死一样寂静,没有电话,无人登门。我感到非常孤独,非常想念在北京的家人,特别是我母亲,我真怕再也见不到她了。


之后的几天之间,关于我的新闻在网上到处都是,中国的网站也一样。 标题大多是:美国国家气象局的水文学家与中国官员秘密见面…美国数据库被闯入…中国间谍,等等。 我不想吃饭,不想喝水,也不想睡觉,每天只是不停地哭。我也不想出门,不想被任何人见到,我甚至一个月都没有出门买菜。就在2014年感恩节前的3天,我的工资被停发了。与此同时,我每天都在极端恐惧中生活,不知道是否被监视或被监听。我的朋友们也有类似的担心。直到现在我都没有足够的勇气去讲述我和我丈夫是如何捱过那些精神上和心理上的伤痛。也许某一天我将能够面对。


我的抗争事情发生大约一周后,我渐渐从麻木中恢复了一些,意识到不能只是哭,我必须抗争来为自己洗刷罪名。我没有做错事,不应该遭受这样的对待。可是当我打开起诉书,看到上面的标题,立刻感到非常无望。 起诉书上写着:“美国诉陈霞芬”。难道整个国家都在与我这样一个普通公民为敌?有许多美国的反间谍机构都参与了对我进行的调查,除了商业部的7名特工人员之外,FBI,国土安全部(DHS),美国移民海关总署(ICE),国土安全调查部(HSI)海关边境保护局(CBP),网络信息研究所,等等。这些反间谍机构动用了各种技术手段对我进行调查和监视,所有这些技术,我只在小说和电影里面听说过。而我呢?只是一个连私人律师都请不起的普通人。 当我这样的一个人面对拥有各种资源的强大的国家机器,面对拥有巨大权力的政府部门,还要奋力抗争的时候,没有办法不觉得自己就象空中飞舞的一粒尘埃。


我的公共律师并不擅长这一类的刑事案件,加上她接的案子又多, 有一次险些弄错我的开庭时间。如果真的弄错了,我就会被投入监狱。我意识到必须得请个私人律师,而且我也确实找到了一个好律师,可是他所在的律师事务所要求先预付一大笔定金才能签合同。这钱数对我来说是天文数字,普通工薪阶层绝对无法支付。国内的兄第们放下他们自己所有的事,到处去筹借。可是万万没有想到:钱真的不好借。一些亲戚和朋友都说没有钱,不知道是不是怕被牵连。家人不让我分心,让我把精力集中在案子上。后来我得知他们借了不少高利贷,因为他们坚决不能接受失去我的后果,所以完全不计金钱上的得失。


我终于有了自己的律师,在审阅了案件后,他不敢相信,政府居然会起诉我。他很有信心胜诉,因为发现了不少我这个案子里政府的致命缺陷。他花了大量时间写了三项动议,指出政府的错误,要求撤诉。那时候我在网上看到很多律师和法律分析家都说:指控我的起诉书只有两页纸。我不明白这是什么意思。 后来才知道,指的是起诉书里面除了罪名以外什么犯罪内容都没有。 一般的起诉书往往长达几十页或上百页,相比之下我的起诉书短得出奇,凡是看到过的律师都不敢相信,政府居然能这么做。


可是检察官把起诉书拿回给大陪审团,修改了我的律师指出的错误,然后在没有任何新证据的情况下把指控从4项增加到8项,又增加了一名起诉我的检察官,然后签发了新的起诉书。 我的律师和我都惊呆了真是欲加之罪,何患无辞啊,我的这两位律师都在检察院做过多年检察官,颇有经验,可是他们谁都没有想到会是这样的结果。 新的起诉书把我的罪名和惩罚都加重了,我面临终生监禁。 我的律师开始对我说这样的话:“在法庭上一切事情都可能发生,思想上要做最坏的准备。”此时,是我的人生也是案子发展的最低谷处,孤立无援希望渺茫。我多么希望能有奇迹发生,一切都在瞬间转危为安。可是我清楚地意识到:只能靠自己抗争,放弃就意味着进监狱和死亡。对我来说已经别无选择,只有面对残酷的现实,坚持下去。


“我是无罪的!”这是事实也是支持我抗争下去的信念。我丈夫对我说:“我支持你!咱们和他们抗争到底。如果输了,我就在你监狱门口开一个小店,每天去看你。现在咱们集中全力与他们抗争,争取胜利。”即使是现在想起他那时说的这些话,我仍然会忍不住热泪盈眶。
那时候,虽然每一天我的心里都象在流血,可是为了振作精神,我丈夫和我每天都给对方讲笑话,尽量给自己放松压力。我每天都早起晚睡,回忆所有发生过的事情,和各个事件之间的联系一件件写下来传给律师,让他把这些事实从法律方面加以分析。等到开庭日期临近的时候,我们已经很有信心能打赢这场官司了。我的律师和检察官们联系,又给了他们一次撤销起诉的机会。


自2012年开始,政府部门对我进行了长达两年半的调查,动用了大量人力和资源,对我到美国后二十年来的全部情况进行了调查取证,其中包括二十年来我的银行账户情况,包括我全部的私人和单位电子邮件信箱,包括机场的那次额外检查,包括在我电脑里装上监控的设备。在起诉我5个月之后,在和包括几乎我全部的同事在内的许多证人面谈之后,司法部终于在原定开庭日期的前一周,决定无条件撤销对我的全部指控。


是的,所有的指控都被撤销了,最终我被证明是无辜的(与享有“无罪推定”的权利不同,我从一开始就被假定为有罪)。消息传来,我和我丈夫都失声痛哭。虽然指控被撤销了, 但是我的事业、我的生活和20多年来建立起来的良好声誉都被无情地摧毁了。


指控被撤销之后,我以为很快就可以回去上班了。可是,我所在的美国国家气象局不但没有立即允许我回去工作,反而在结案6个月后,在上级政府的干扰下,提出要解除我的工作。 二十年来我所得到的工作表现评定都是“非常满意”或者“表现出色”,我为工作付出了我全部心血,我尽我一切能力努力地工作去保护俄亥俄河两岸人们的财产、家园,和生命。我因为工作表现优异,还获得过政府颁发的国家级奖。


然而现在我不确信接下来又会发生什么,无论我自己多么希望把这个痛苦的噩梦抛在脑后,继续向前走,我所面对的依旧是不确定的未来。
但是无论如何我要继续抗争—要回我的工作、要回我的生活、要回我的尊严。在这抗争的过程中,我需要大家的帮助,和我一起争取正义,一起为所有遵纪守法的、努力工作的华裔美国人抗争。感谢您所能提供的任何形式的支持。谢谢!

 

陈霞芬
圣诞节之日,2015年12月25日

 

(更多资料可参看我的网站:http://www.sherrychendefensefund.com/ sherry chen专题网站:http://newasianleaders.org/sherry-chen

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