Editor's Note: The case of Denise Woo, an FBI agent being prosecuted by the agency, appears to be another example of the government's hurtful mistrust of Chinese Americans.
SAN JOSE, Calif.--The FBI quietly indicted Denise Woo, one of their own agents, last December, for allegedly tipping off a suspect of a national security probe that he was being investigated. Woo's prosecution looks to be another example of racial profiling by the agency.
The suspect had been assigned to Woo for undercover surveillance. Her case is pending a trial date.
According to a copy of the indictment obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the suspect was a Chinese American, code-named "JW," who worked for a defense contractor and was suspected by the FBI of spying for China. But Woo's attorney, Mark Holscher, and her family say that JW's informer had questionable credentials and that Woo found no credible evidence to back up the accusation against him. Furthermore, they say, JW, an American citizen born in America, does not speak Chinese and has never been west of Hawaii.
In fact, the FBI eventually dropped the investigation into JW -- but not before turning his life upside down and putting his career in tatters.
Woo's undercover assignment took place in the late 1990s, during the height of hysteria about the China menace fanned by the likes of the Congressional Cox Committee report on China. Dr. Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist, was almost railroaded into oblivion during this era. Lee was arrested and jailed in 1999, accused of giving nuclear secrets to Beijing. Eventually, after he had spent nine months in solitary confinement, the government dropped all espionage charges against him. The presiding judge apologized to Lee for government misconduct. The FBI agent in charge of the case was found to have lied in his testimony.
The FBI bias against Chinese Americans is long standing. In the mid-1950s, J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, put forth the view that all Chinese Americans were potential spies for China and could not be trusted. Today, the FBI continues to attribute to China this unique "grains of sand" spying technique -- namely, that China relies on tiny tidbits collected from every ethnic Chinese living in America.
In assigning Denise Woo to the JW case, the FBI violated its own operating principles. Woo was neither trained nor qualified to do undercover work. Furthermore, JW was a family acquaintance of Woo's, which put her in a position of conflict of interest.
Perhaps recognizing that their case rests on thin ice, the FBI has offered Woo probation in exchange for a guilty plea. But according to attorney Mark Holscher, Woo insists on contesting the case in court. Holscher, who also defended Wen Ho Lee, has agreed to mount another pro bono defense.
The American public should be concerned over the fate of Ms. Woo, pitted against the might of the U.S. government. We should ask why the FBI created the predicament for one of its own agents in the first place. All Americans, and especially Asian Americans and other Americans of color should be concerned with the apparent racial bias that runs deep within the FBI.
If the FBI is willing to throw one of their few Asian agents into an assignment for which she was not qualified and then condemn her for arguing that the Bureau had the wrong suspect, how many new minority candidates are going to consider a career in the "new" FBI?
Denise Woo, a former executive with IBM, left the private sector for a career in government service to fulfill her patriotic aspirations. What kind of message is the U.S. government giving to all future young men and women of color who want to serve their country?
Pacific News Service, Commentary, George Koo, Posted: Aug 15, 2005