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View Point

By David M. Forman

Friday, March 3, 2000

Racial factor clouds
spy investigation

THE phrase "racial profiling" is commonly applied to either traffic stops or customs searches. The practice is related to prejudices and stereotypes that are deeply rooted in our country's history.

Wen Ho Lee, an American citizen of Chinese descent, has been charged with felony mishandling of classified information. Central figures in his investigation have publicly acknowledged that his ethnicity was a "major factor."

Lee fell under suspicion, in part, because he met with Chinese officials in 1986 and 1988 at physics institutes held in China.

However, the former chief of counterintelligence at the lab where Lee worked admits that "Caucasians at Los Alamos who went to the same institute and visited the same people -- I counted 13 of them -- were left out of the investigation."

Los Alamos physicist Michael Soukop said that he fit the "suspicion matrix" for the investigation perfectly, but was never interviewed and questioned.

The government's selective approach to the investigation at Los Alamos starkly contrasts with the harassment of Asian-American contributors, irrespective of their complete lack of connection to China, during investigations of alleged campaign finance violations.

We will also never forget that Japanese Americans were interned during World War II on the basis of supposed national security concerns, including the threat of espionage.

The Los Alamos investigation began after discovering that China had obtained a sketch of one of our most advanced nuclear warheads, the W-88, thought to have originated at this particular laboratory.

The national press eagerly gobbled up government leaks identifying Lee as a Chinese spy, playing upon the public's readiness to accept the renewed threat of "yellow peril." However, it has been conclusively established that the sketch in question did not come from Los Alamos.

China's version of the sketch contains flaws known to have been introduced by outside engineers. With the full knowledge of U.S. officials, this modified sketch was distributed to 500 weapons institutions across the country.

Government agencies continue to grant security clearances to Defense Department contractor employees who have lied about past misconduct or been involved in significant criminal fraud. Any one of these employees could have been the source of the "secret" sketch.

Obscured by the sensationalism surrounding Lee's investigation were reports by a Senate committee and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board criticizing the FBI and Justice Department for focusing too narrowly on Los Alamos and Lee. According to the publisher of a leading nuclear journal, "Many scientists at Los Alamos and elsewhere have routinely violated these regulations."

MEANWHILE a mere sentence is all that Alamos papers devoted to Lee's Privacy Act lawsuit against the government. He argues that the government leaked information identifying him as a spy suspect to focus attention away from lax security at Los Alamos and inept investigation by the FBI.

We note that former CIA Director John M. Deutch has not been charged with any crime for keeping classified information on an unsecured home computer.

Former Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh faced no charges despite losing classified documents packed in luggage that disappeared after he checked it at the Los Angeles International Airport.

The Honolulu chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League joins other organizations in condemning the use of racial profiling. We are also concerned about the negative effects of this case upon the Asian-Pacific-American community in the United States.

Thus, we urge the media to exercise fairness, caution and sensitivity both in their coverage of alleged spy activities by the Chinese government, and of the separate charges brought against Wen Ho Lee for purportedly mishandling classified material.

Finally, we call for a public investigation of the race-based tactics and media strategy that have been employed by the government in this case.

David M. Forman is a director and secretary of the
Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Chapter.

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