Racial Bias in the Wen Ho Lee Case?
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: On Friday, after months of allegations in the media and elsewhere, scientist Wen Ho Lee was arrested and charged with mishandling classified nuclear weapons information at the Los Alamos labs. The government alleges Lee, while an employee at the lab, illegally transferred large amounts of classified information from a secure computer to another much less secure computer network. But the 59-count indictment against the Taiwan-born, naturalized American included no charges of passing information to a foreign power, something Lee has consistently said he never did.
WEN HO LEE: I never give any classified information to any unauthorized person, period. I am innocent.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Lee’s lawyers say the scientist has been unfairly singled out by government investigators because of his ethnic background. Lee remains in custody in New Mexico. At a hearing on Monday, held in federal court in Albuquerque, government prosecutors urged he be held without bail. Lee pleaded innocent to all charges at that hearing.
Lee is a former employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has been under scrutiny for five years in connection with a government investigation to find out if China obtained the formula to build a miniaturized warhead by stealing secrets from the Los Alamos nuclear lab. The investigation became public last spring, when Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson removed Lee from his job – stating: “This kind of egregious security breach is absolutely unacceptable and we now have a strong barriers in place that will prevent these kinds of transfers.” The case created a furor in Congress, and a special committee was created to investigate possible loss of nuclear secrets. China has consistently denied allegations of spying. Today a government spokesman made this statement in Beijing.
ZHANG QIYUE, Chinese Foreign Ministry: (speaking through interpreter) I’d like to point out there are that some people in the United States are still clinging stubbornly to the Cold War mentality, and fabricate the lies on the so-called China theft of nuclear technology from the U.S. with ulterior motives, in an attempt to defame China and undermine China’s relations. The facts have proven that the attempt will never succeed.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A trial date for Lee has not been set. Meanwhile, his attorneys say they will appeal the denial of bond decision.
JIM LEHRER: For more on all of this, we go to Paul Moore, former FBI chief analyst for Chinese intelligence; and Nancy Choi, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Miss Choi, you are critical of the way this case has been handled. State your criticism.
NANCY CHOI: Well, there have been reports in the news that the investigation of Dr. Lee involved racial profiling, that he was targeted because of his ethnicity. And we feel that that is not — that is a concern for us because it reflects not only on Dr. Lee, it not only affects Dr. Lee but, I think, it also affects the Asians Pacific community as a whole and in particular, the Asian Pacific American scientists who are working in the labs presently.
JIM LEHRER: So, your position is that he would not have been targeted, he would not have been investigated had he not been a Chinese-American?
NANCY CHOI: Well, you know, he was initially investigated for giving information about this W-88 warhead. And he’s not being charged with that now. He’s being charged with mishandling classified information. So, I think that, you know, it started out that he was investigated but he was the only person who was investigated for this W-88 warhead issue. And that hasn’t come to pass, he’s not being charged with espionage or anything really related to the warhead, he’s being charged for mishandling classified information.
JIM LEHRER: But you think this would never have happened if he had been of some other ethnic group?
NANCY CHOI: I don’t know enough about the facts. I just know that one of the senior intelligence officials who investigated this case had said that race was a major factor, that there were 13 other individuals who had access to the same information that Dr. Lee had, who had similar contacts that Dr. Lee have and that those people were not investigated.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Moore, what about that? That’s been — Miss Choi’s charge has been made by others – racial profiling. Mr. Lee is the end result.
PAUL MOORE: There is racial profiling based on ethnic background. It’s done by the Peoples Republic of China. It’s the mainstay of their intelligence effort against the United States. They are committed and have been for as long as I’ve been looking at them, more than 20 years, to getting as much of their intelligence as they possibly can from Americans of Chinese ancestry. And what they do is they find a facility of interest they walk in and they look around and they say, nice facility, is there anybody here who is Chinese, ethnic Chinese? We see this over and over and over, my whole career. Now the FBI comes along and it applies a profile, so do other agencies who do counter intelligence investigations. They apply a profile, and the profile is based on Peoples Republic of China, PRC intelligence activities. So, the FBI is committed to following the PRC’s intelligence program wherever it leads. If the PRC is greatly interested in the activities of Chinese-Americans, the FBI is greatly interested in the activities of the PRC as regards to Chinese-Americans.
JIM LEHRER: It had no choice then but to go after Mr. Lee rather than the other 12 along the lines of Miss Choi just outlined.
PAUL MOORE: That’s right — because of the quality of contact that was perceived with Lee. So the FBI… See, we know that the Chinese, the PRC will come into a facility and they will be interested in any and all people who are of ethnic Chinese ancestry. So that means that that becomes a factoid, they’re interested in everybody who is ethnic Chinese and that doesn’t really help you so you see them being interested, if they were found somebody that they weren’t interested in, that would be interesting. They’re interesting in everybody who is ethnic Chinese. And so when we see their interest in the FBI we know why they’re interested. OK, he’s ethnic Chinese. So the FBI immediately passes by that and they’ll look for other things. What about the quality of this interest and what the FBI normally does, is they look at past cases where we know that there has been hanky-panky, and we see whether there are instances of activity, which seem to parallel those other cases. When these pile up, then you say, ah ha, there is probably something going on here, but you have to bear in mind that the PRC has really got the U.S. over a barrel, because it has perfected a means of committing espionage against the United States – even nuclear espionage — without leaving behind the evidence necessary for the U.S. to prosecute that espionage.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to that in a moment. But first, Miss Choi, what about that, I mean, it’s China that is targeting. Well, you heard what Mr. Moore just said.
NANCY CHOI: I mean, there’s no question that the protection of the U.S. national of the nuclear secrets as a grave national security concern. But I also think that the United States has a Constitution, a bill of rights, a history of discrimination – you know — we try not to discriminate against people based on race and ethnicity. It makes it even more important for, I think, the people investigating espionage to be diligent in not using racial profiling in doing their investigation.
JIM LEHRER: What would be the alternative to what Mr. Moore just outlined? In other words, if they — if the FBI was on a case where involved, say, China, looking for nuclear secrets and they traced their technique to talking to Chinese — to ethnic Chinese, Chinese-Americans, what then should the FBI do under a desirable way that you would want?
NANCY CHOI: Well, I think that they should investigate everyone whose who has contacts, whether they’re Asian or not, everyone who has contacts, everyone who might – you know — be committing potential espionage I think that everyone should be treated fairly and not selected based on their race. I think it’s dangerous to make a generalization that all Chinese-Americans are potential, you have the potential to commit espionage.
JIM LEHRER: Is that the point you’re making, Mr. Moore?
PAUL MOORE: No. It’s exactly the opposite point. What is happening here is that the PRC has a program where they’re trying to sell the idea to Chinese Americans that you should help the ancestral land. Let me in on a little secret here: Ethnic profiling does not work. Ethnic profiling doesn’t work for the PRC, it doesn’t work for the FBI. You cannot predict somebody’s intelligence, somebody’s espionage behavior based on his ethnic background. It flat out doesn’t work. What you have here in the PRC is a sales program very much like junk mail — where they have decided that instead of sending everything to a zip code and soliciting help from everybody in that zip code with their particular message, they’re going to go to an ethnic community, the one they identify most strongly with. And they do this because they figure that however bad they are at some aspects of intelligence, the thing that they do absolutely the best is sell their message to ethnic Chinese, and they don’t care whether they only get one percent of the people responding positively to that message, one-half of one percent, doesn’t matter to them because they’re going to go after everybody that they possibly can.
JIM LEHRER: That makes sense to you, Ms. Choi?
NANCY CHOI: No, I still think that — what about the non-Asian who approaches the Chinese, then you’re keeping those people out of your investigation?
PAUL MOORE: The Chinese, the non-Asian who approaches the Chinese — that is almost the mythical non-Asian who approaches the Chinese in counter intelligence investigations — the Chinese normally will deflect people who approach them who are not of ethnic Chinese ancestry often to something like the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association. The Chinese are not very much interested except in certain military intelligence matters in dealing with people who are not ethnic Chinese who come forward and try to volunteer their services for them. It’s one of the phenomena of Chinese intelligence practice.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to a point you made earlier, Mr. Moore, and that is you said essentially that dealing with the Chinese, they leave no footprints, they leave no evidence behind, does that speak to the question that Miss Choi raised at the beginning that all of these early reports was that Mr. Lee had committed espionage but yet he was not charged with that at all. He was charged with violating some security regulations.
PAUL MOORE: Right. There is great misassumption in the land, and that is where there is espionage there must, therefore, be proof of espionage. And what the Chinese have done, as I mentioned before is they have come up with a way to commit this espionage without leaving the kind of proof that you need in order to conduct your prosecutions. I’m talking about money flowing into bank accounts, briefcases full of documents disappearing into planes carrying people overseas; meetings in the park that can be surreptitiously videotaped by the FBI, and confronted -
JIM LEHRER: They don’t do that? They don’t do that?
PAUL MOORE: No. The Chinese, if they meet in the park they meet in the park in Shanghai 12,000 miles away from the FBI’s ability to surveil them. So, the Chinese are committed to a philosophy of using exploiting natural contacts to further degree. So, if they find somebody who is authorized from a lab to talk to them about three things, and only three, the name of the game for Chinese intelligence is to get him to talk about a fourth thing or fifth thing. Now the problem for U.S. counterintelligence is, how do you conduct investigation if somebody to determine whether he actually told them a fourth thing off in a meeting room…
JIM LEHRER: Perfectly legal and appropriate?
PAUL MOORE: That’s right, and how are you going to even know?
JIM LEHRER: Any comment on that?
NANCY CHOI: Well, I suspect that you have to train your scientists well and that you know, I don’t think that even if the Chinese government is engaging in racial profiling that does not mean that the United States necessarily has to do that, and I think because our country is based on the rights of individuals — that it means that the government has to be even more diligent — and not resorting to using racial profiling in its investigation.
JIM LEHRER: Another issue quickly before we go. Is the fact that Mr. Lee was identified in April as having been accused of doing something wrong and when he was arrested by federal agents last week, the cameras were there. How does that happen, Mr. Moore, that somebody who is accused of a crime is accused of it in public long before he’s technically or officially accused?
PAUL MOORE: Well, I think we have to thank you and other members of the news media for helping with that process of bringing this kind of information to light. But what’s really happening here with this arrest last week is the U.S. cannot exist, the counter intelligence people cannot be legitimate if they do not have the remedy for espionage. So, now the U.S., in my opinion, this signals that the U.S. is fighting back. This is the situation quite similar to the Al Capone case where they couldn’t him up for his racketeering activities, so they cast about and they found something else that they could get him for.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the publicity on this case?
NANCY CHOI: Well, I think it’s very — I don’t want to get into the merits of the individual case of Dr. Lee because we don’t have enough information. But I think that it very much affects the Asian community. It reminds me of the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II where 120 Japanese Americans were taken away from their homes and put in concentration camps here in the United States. And, individually, there wasn’t any indication that any particular individual who were interned had committed any kind of espionage. I think that this sort of broad brushes the whole Asian-American community as being disloyal. It questions the loyalty of the Asian-Pacific Americans and it feeds into that perpetual view of Asian-Americans as foreigners in this country.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
PAUL MOORE: Thank you.