The Coastal Post - June 2000

Is Racism Behind Wen Ho Lee Prosecution?

By Karen Nakamura

While you and I are living out our lives, nuclear scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee has been languishing in jail since December 10, 1999. Accused publicly of being a Chinese spy and destroyed professionally, his only charge is he downloaded classified files; files, by the way, which were so classified only after he was fired.

In a statement released by Maxine Chan and Wang Yung, President and Civil Rights Chair of the Organization of Chinese-Americans-Seattle (OCA), the motivation is pure and simple racism. "Evidence of espionage by Dr. Wen Ho Lee has never been the impetus of this investigation. In fact, officials have admitted that since day one, there has never been any kind of evidence of espionage. Rather, it has been much uglier forces-political scapegoating, blame avoidance and stereotypes about Dr. Lee's loyalties-that have driven the 3-year investigation of the former Los Alamos scientist."

Since officials have admitted there's no evidence of Lee committing espionage, why should Senator Arlen Specter (R.-Penn) so insistently seek a copy of the Bellows report, an internal Department of Justice document critical of the FBI's failure to rapidly follow up on its suspicions of Lee? It also criticizes the FBI's focus on Lee while ignoring other leads. For some time, Specter and the FBI have been critical of Justice head, Janet Reno, for not issuing an electronic surveillance warrant and thus hampering FBI operations. Justice argues the FBI spent so much time fighting to get the warrant, it missed the opportunity to search Lee's files earlier. The Bellows report also states the FBI didn't provide all the information it had that might have helped Reno make an informed decision. Shades of Waco.

Although his trial begins in November, Wen Ho Lee's really never been able to answer the charges against him. The only time is when a TV news team caught him saying. "I am not guilty." We all almost automatically presumed he was. In the meantime, he's been put in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. Even his one hour of exercise is conducted alone. He's also allowed only one visit a week from his immediate family.

It wasn't until April, 2000, that federal officials revealed the files Lee downloaded were given higher security classifications just after Dr. Lee was fired. His firing was due to charges of an espionage investigation officials knew from the beginning were false. Rather, he was cooperating with, and his wife was working for, the FBI when he was suppose to be spying. And we demonstrate against the abuse of civil rights in China?

In the meantime, the mainstream media has paid scant attention and hastily dismissed a growing phenomenon. The usually quiet, inward-looking Asian community is enthusiastically supporting Wen Ho Lee's civil rights if not complete exoneration. They see the acceptance of Lee's guilt by Euro-Americans as just another example of racism. Dr. Lee is achieving something not done before. He's activating the Asian community to stand up and be counted.

Since the beginning of the year, the Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund has been gathering support from all over the country. Starting with a dollar bucket at street-fair booths, the coalition raised enough to afford buttons and bumper stickers. Soon they were seen in Santa Fe and Seattle, New York and San Francisco. People of every background have joined in outrage at Lee's treatment. May 3, a rally to protest the US's discriminatory treatment of Dr. Lee was held in Seattle, Washington with the backing of groups such as the Organization of Chinese Americans, the Asian Bar Association, Blacks in Government, Washington State Representative Kip Tokuda, the Urban League of Seattle and numerous organizations across the spectrum. Similar rallies were held in San Francisco and other cities.

At this point, according to Cecilia Chang, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Wen Ho Lee Defense fund and Executive Director for, "We have been in this country for over 150 years yet we still have the US government treating us like foreigners. Wen Ho Lee is a good example. My question to you is, how can we be so sure our children, grandchildren would not be continued to be looked upon as foreigners one hundred fifty years from now?"

A petition is being gathered to send to Attorney General Janet Reno calling for release of Dr. Lee on bail. It was denied because he could be a threat to Americans by engaging in espionage. This was even though the government knew he hadn't participated in such activities in the past. According to federal statute, a bail review can be held by Attorney General Reno every 120 days. First denied bail on February 29, that means around July 1, he'll be up for review. If bail isn't granted by the time Lee goes to trial, he'll have been confined in solitary confinement for nearly a year. Cecilia Chang is hoping enough people will protest Lee's unjust confinement to sway Reno to change bail restrictions. If you're interested in more information, wish to volunteer or sign the petition, try or [email protected]

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