The Coastal Post - February 2000

Wen Ho Lee And The Hatemongers

By Karen Nakamura

"There's the whole concept of due process and innocence until proven guilty that's missing here." Frank Yee, former President of the Asian American Alliance of Marin and San Rafael resident, insisted. His family having lived in Novato since 1959, Yee's been involved in Asian-American issues since Eddy Wu was stabbed in Novato by someone quoted as saying, "I wanted to kill me a 'Chinaman'."

Yee continued his discussion about alleged nuclear spy, Wen Ho Lee. "Lee has been denied bail and locked up for a whole year for what? Downloading files? Jonathan Pollard, a spy for Israel, was caught red-handed and prosecuted. Now, many prominent people in the Jewish community want him pardoned. Meanwhile Wen Ho Lee lies in jail for downloading files. It has to be based in racism."

Is nuclear scientist, Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese spy or a victim of an elaborate ponzy scheme by Republicans to win the November elections? Whatever the truth, Wen Ho Lee is getting railroaded. He's being used by a conservative right wing bent on fanning anti-democratic nationalism. However, Lee isn't the only victim. If this "vast right wing conspiracy" has to step over a few things like federal laws, so be it.

The problem is most Americans seem to have swallowed whole the flimsy excuses for the abuse of Dr. Lee's civil rights. There are numerous other cases. However, this article will explore only Wen Ho Lee. It's his case which clearly fits the modus operandi of government officials. Civil rights activists have seen it happen too often.

Lee is accused of handing over nuclear secrets to agents of the People's Republic of China. While he does admit to one unsanctioned visit with a PRC official, he insists he's innocent. This all took place when he was cooperating with law enforcement officials and when his wife worked for the FBI. Though fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in March of 1999, he has not been charged with handing over secrets.

Less well known is Dr. Lee submitted to a lie detector test administered by the FBI. With inflammatory leaks to the press, he was told he'd flunked. This piece of "hard evidence" was flaunted as highly damaging and caused the public to consider Lee guilty. The deception went on for months. Only recently was it revealed Lee passed the test, scoring among the highest ever on honesty.

He admits to downloading secret nuclear files to an unsecured computer and onto disks in case the computer crashed, a common practice among computer users. Several are missing. Lee says he doesn't know where they are. His lie detector test might well indicate he's telling the truth. He's also been denied bail as a public risk. In other words, Lee might pass secrets to the Chinese. If he is a spy, wouldn't he have gotten rid of the files, either after he downloaded or when he first came under suspicion?

What's apparent to many who understand the complexities of the Asian body politic is that as a Taiwanese-born, American citizen, it's illogical Lee's loyalties lie with the People's Republic of China. Like the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, the PRC and Taiwan have deep differences.

The Chinese American community is outraged. It was reported in December that over 20 groups representing Chinese Americans have gathered to support Lee. They feel he's being targeted as a scapegoat. Columnist William Wong stated in a December 17 op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner, "The fact that the government couldn't charge Lee with spying says something, after all these months of leaks to the elite press in Washington and all the barely veiled China-bashing from top Republican congressmen."

A New York Times investigation found a key congressional report made exaggerated claims that went beyond the evidence. The Cox report makes accusations that Chinese-Americans are being targeted by the PRC to become spies. What's left unexplored is motivation. Because Chinese-Americans are also Chinese, does that mean they'll automatically sell out to the country their parents fled? This entire approach is highly offensive to most Asians. It also bothers Michael May, co-director of the Stanford Center for International Security and Professor Emeritus of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. He said, "While China may spy on the US nuclear program, the allegations are generally unproved."

Even a former head of counterintelligence at Los Alamos, Robert S. Vrooman, stated he believes Lee's ethnicity played a major role in making him a target for investigators. What's interesting is Vrooman is one of three officials at Los Alamos disciplined for mishandling the investigation. Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California, said the discipline was taken after an independent review but was "more severe than those the panel proposed."

"It's guilt by association," Yee persisted. "This incident casts a cloud of suspicion over the entire Asian community. The idea we're not trustworthy goes hand in hand with the history of this country beginning in 1882, the year the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress. It's the only law that specifically excluded one group of people from immigration and was on the books for 60 years.

"To this day, many tourists expect to find gambling, opium dens and prostitution when they visit Chinatown. That concept began when Chinatown was made up of bachelors. Women weren't allowed to immigrate. San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan campaigned for the US Senate with the slogan, 'Keep California White.' The impression Asians aren't trustworthy was also the reason Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during World War Two. Throughout American history, if a suspect was Asian, they were automatically suspected of disloyalty," Lee said.

He continued, "We have to understand there were many other nuclear scientists who downloaded files but were never investigated. Because Wen Ho Lee was Chinese, he was automatically assumed to be disloyal. That happens all the time. Chang-Lin Tien, the former Chancellor at the University of California-Berkeley, was passed over as Secretary of Energy. Many Asian-Americans expected him to get the position because of his intelligence and talent. Instead Bill Richardson was appointed. Since the collapse of the cold war, some politicians have needed a new enemy. China and the Chinese are it. The press rarely presents China in a positive light. Instead they get caught in human rights issues in Tibet and the rest. It's always negative."

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