Thursday, September 21, 2000

Only An Open Public Inquiry Can Put The The Wen Ho Lee Case To Rest

Pacific News Service, George Koo, Posted: Sep 21, 2000

Editor's Note: Wen Ho Lee is no longer in solitary confinement or awaiting trial. But the case is by no means resolved, and the host of unanswered questions can only be answered by an open public investigation. PNS commentator George Koo is a business consultant and a member of Committee of 100, a national organization of prominent Chinese Americans.

Dr. Wen Ho Lee pleaded guilty to one felony count of downloading classified information in exchange for his freedom. But we haven't heard the last of this case, much as the Justice Department and the FBI would like to put it behind them.

Perhaps the strangest episode in this entire affair came when the presiding judge delivered a 30-minute apology to Lee. Judge Parker excoriated the government for prosecutorial abuse and calculated efforts to mislead him into denying Lee bail and keeping him in solitary confinement.

The media reacted with their own critical crescendo, pointing out that those guilty of a comparable offense would have received, at most, an administrative reprimand.

The Asian American community has been saying all along that Lee is a victim of racial profiling, a scapegoat caught in the crossfire of domestic politics. That claim now resonates among the general public.

Even President Bill Clinton felt compelled to publicly criticize the Justice Department for its handling of this case.

Norman Bay, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, suddenly became highly visible. He insisted on ABC Nightline that Lee compiled "a personal library of highly sensitive nuclear secrets" and that "this information represented a complete design portfolio for nuclear weapons."

Unfortunately, the commentator did not ask Bay why he insists on the "crown jewel" depiction of the material even after world-renowned experts have dismissed it as so much malarkey.

Bay, a Chinese American, was appointed to replace John Kelly who resigned to run for Congress. On the same program, Bay even volunteered that Lee reminded him of his own father, and that there is no way he would have been a part of racially profiling such a father-like figure.

Unfortunately, due to its conduct in this case, the government has exhausted its credibility. There is only one way to stop the competition for the public mind between the government and its critics. Only an open and fair public inquiry can restore confidence in the Department of Justice and the legal system, and render to all the actors of this tragic comedy their due.

Let the inquiry examine the documents Judge Parker requested from the government to determine whether racial profiling had any basis in fact.

Let a panel of qualified experts examine the codes Lee downloaded, to determine whether this "represented a complete design portfolio for nuclear weapons" or merely a compilation of Lee's work in hydrodynamics.

If it's the latter, Bay should be asked to justify why he is still crooning the same old tune.

If the download really involved vital material, why was it classified merely as restricted data? Who ordered the classification upgraded after discovering that Lee had downloaded it? Why settle for only one out of 59 charges?

Let the panel discover who made the decision to deprive Lee of due process and his human rights. Why was he kept in solitary confinement with the light on 24 hours a day if not for psychological intimidation to force a confession?

Who ordered rigging a lie detector test to produce inconclusive results in order to justify threatening Lee? Who ordered the FBI agents interrogating Lee to lie and tell him that he failed the first test? What happened to the FBI agent who could not stomach the proceedings and got herself reassigned?

What role die Notra Trulock play -- did he put the finger on Lee as head of counter-intelligence at Department of Energy? Did he violate federal statutes and leak information to the New York Times that put the spy scandal into high gear?

What was the official reason for Energy Secretary Bill Richardson awarding Trulock with $10,000 cash? What did Richardson know about Lee's case and when did he know it?

Who insisted on indicting Lee -- was it Richardson who couldn't stand looking foolish, or prosecuting attorney John Kelly, who thought the publicity would give him a head start in his race for Congress?

A lot of questions about the Wen Ho Lee case are unanswered, and will stay so until there is an open inquiry. Until the public knows, the government will be viewed with distrust and scorn.

Congressman George Miller (D-CA) has called for a blue-ribbon panel to look into the case and "see how we can better safeguard the rights and liberties of all American citizens." Let the healing process begin.