Flipping the channels a few nights ago, I stumbled on an interesting story on the WorldLinkTV channel, “Never Fully American,” about the notorious Chinese(-American?) spy, Dr. Wen Ho Lee. Confronted with this disturbing story of yet another hysterical attack by our infamous “Justice” Department that had gone wrong, I quickly scanned the newspaper of a few days before to see if Dr. Lee’s name was on the pardon list.
Nope, wasn’t there. How can this be? A misprint? No, it appears that in spite of all the apologies for Dr. Lee’s abuse by the media, the Congress, and Clinton himself, our president could not find sufficient reason to let Dr. Lee enjoy the full privileges of a citizen again.
I decided to try to understand why this might be.
The Freight Car is Released
Massive government agencies, such as the “Justice” Department, are like a rail freight car on an inclined track with a small pebble between the front of a wheel and the track. Such a small pebble can keep the car, filled with tons of cargo, from rolling. But if you knock the pebble out of the way, the car will slowly start moving and immediately it becomes very difficult to stop now even if you put giant boulders in its track.
The same goes for the monstrous “Justice” Department and others of its ilk. Once rolling, even the members of that department are helpless to stop it. Examples are Ruby Ridge and Waco. The flaw in the system is that they have unlimited resources. Ruby Ridge would have been vastly different if they were not allowed to spend millions of dollars per day without any restraint. When the government has an unlimited budget, the citizens do not have a chance in any dispute with them.
And such was the case with Wen Ho Lee.
But first let us talk about what the real problem was. With the government there is always the stated problem and the real problem usually not the same.
The more a government agency is hidden from public view, the more it is likely to get careless with the rules and laws. This is particularly true of security which is a necessary but tiresome activity added to the much more interesting research by the scientists and engineers.
And so it was with the Department of Energy. Security had deteriorated over the years, especially during those years in which the administration was inhabited by liberals who find secrecy a bit disgusting. The problem was further exacerbated by the normal inter-agency squabbling and turf protection (for example, according to Dan Stober of the San Jose Mercury-News, Lee was investigated by the FBI way back in 1982 but they never told the Energy Department!) Trust me, having been a former government employee, I can assure you that turf protection is far more important than national security!
The evidence indicates that Lee copied classified files and moved them around in ways that violated security rules and possibly laws. Since Lee has yet to say much about his side of the story, we still do not know exactly why he got a little loose with these files. Nevertheless, it appears likely that the root cause was the environment of sloppy security that had built up over the years.
Then, in the second term of the Clinton administration, the news began to surface about a possible financial connection between Clinton and the Chinese. The accusations were being made that in return for some large financial contributions from the Chinese, maybe the Chinese were being “allowed”, accidentally or otherwise, to some of our missile and nuclear secrets. With the Republicans riled and the election coming up, something had to be done. That’s when Wen Ho Lee was presented the opportunity to “serve his country”.
A Show of How Tough we are on Spies Especially Chinese-American Spies
By early 1996, both Wen Ho Lee and his wife were under investigation, along with a few others (“The investigators just told me well, look, I know it’s Lee and ah, we just need some other names to make this thing look good.”, Robert Vrooman, former head of counterintelligence at Los Alamos, as quoted by CBS in “Wen Ho Lee: Scapegoat or Spy?”). The dutiful press, with the “leaks” being fed by the government, began to speak of the Lees as the Rosenbergs of our times and even to suggest that the same fate might befall, at least, Dr. Lee (see “China spy scare: a new stage in the political warfare in Washington”).
In 1999, The Washington “railroad car” gathered momentum. On December 4, 1999, Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Energy Department Director Bill Richardson conferred and decided to pursue criminal charges against Dr. Lee. Then a federal grand jury in Albuquerque returned 59 indictments against him and the FBI arrested him on December 10. Richardson decided that in view of the sudden and extreme danger that the country was now in, Lee would have to be shackled, put in solitary confinement and not allowed to converse with anyone (strangely he had been under investigation, off and on, for years and yet until a few days before, he was given free access to considerable classified material available as part of his job). He was held in solitary confinement for 279 days.
By Fall of 2000, public interest had died down, the press had somehow decided that maybe this gestapo action was a little too stinky to support (the New York Times even apologized), Congress was getting upset, and the election was on us which led the government to the conclusion that maybe some of their charges were not well founded. On September 13 the government dropped all their charges but one (which was part of a plea agreement) and Dr. Lee was released from prison (subject of course to continued moderate harassment by the Federales, but a whole lot better than being in solitary confinement). The presiding federal judge apologized for his employer’s actions (See Senator Spector’s comments) and even Clinton, again forgetting that he is actually in charge, wondered out loud how this could happen.
On the Other Hand, There’s the Deutch Case
If you are not Janet Reno, the case against former CIA director, John Deutch, while similar in many respects, seems far more serious. Mr. Deutch not only downloaded files of a higher security classification to his home computer, he even kept these files after he was no longer in the position of CIA director. Further, the transfer of files to the home computer and then using that computer on the internet is far more dangerous than the transfer between a classified computer to an unclassified computer, both on a secure government installation, as Lee was accused of doing (an excellent summary comparison of the two cases is at Robert Scheer’s site).
Yet today, Deutch is a free man, not a felon, and has yet to experience the joyful solitude of the solitary confinement cell.
While you and I would probably act differently not really having the “big picture”, President Clinton, with his massive administrative resources and nearly infinite wisdom has come to a very profound conclusion:
- John Deutch deserves to be a free man and is accordingly awarded a pardon.
- Dr. Win Ho Lee deserves to be a felon and he and his supporters can go to hell.
Besides, Win Ho Lee was born in Taiwan and is not a real Chinese mainlander anyway.
If you would like to get involved in supporting the freeing of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, or to just keep up with the latest news on his case, check out the Wen Ho Lee website.
Leon Felkins is a retired Engineer, Army officer and former teacher of Computer Systems. He now maintains a web page on Political Philosophy, “A Rational Life“, and another on the history of politics, “Political Almanac.”
Copyright 2001 by Leon Felkins. All rights reserved.