Thursday, July 26, 2007

FBI's Fixation on China

Earlier this July, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the stir among the Chinese American community caused by FBI placing small ads in San Francisco-based Chinese language newspapers looking to recruit informants.

The ads read in part that FBI was interested in talking to individuals with information about intelligence matters with the potential to harm our country. The ad went on to say, “We especially welcome anyone with information on China’s State Security Bureau.”

Since then, sensational articles about the FBI and espionage from China have rippled across America including front page articles in USA Today. The common thread seemed to be that Chinese spies have infiltrated every walks of the American society. Yet actual cases cited to support the imagery of rampant spying were invariably less than meet the eye.

Despite running ads only in ethnic papers, FBI spokesman reassured members of the media, "This is very similar to what we do in every aspect of our operation -- identify individuals who have information." No one asked the FBI as to why their ads were not placed in the mainstream where the solicitation would reach a much larger audience.

Last summer, in a BBC interview, the FBI agent in charge of Silicon Valley had no trouble identifying China as the major threat. Don Pryzbyla was quoted as saying, “The majority are coming from China. They are using a shot-gun approach, flooding the Silicon Valley with engineers and scientists.”

"The Chinese have found success in obtaining the technology essentially through stealing. Once successful they'll send more people over to do the same thing," Pryzbyla goes on the say. Given that mindset, FBI is merely acting on their belief. Namely, they need to stop a massive network of Chinese spies running wild in Silicon Valley.

Of course, the FBI has a long history of regarding China as America’s foremost enemy dating back to J. Edgar Hoover, the founding director of the bureau. Hoover popularized the idea that China conducted espionage differently relying on the so-called “grains of sand” approach to gathering intelligence.

According to this theory, every ethnic Chinese could be a potential spy, gathering tidbits of information to send them back to Beijing where they were assembled and re-constituted into devastating secrets. (Imagine some group toiling in the basement of the Public Security Bureau patiently pasting column-inches of information collected from the transom and wham, secrets of nanotechnology unveiled.) The impracticality of this inefficient way of spying is obvious to those working in the technology industry, but apparently not to the FBI.

Whether dealing with one of its own employees or a suspect, the FBI holds the Chinese American to a different standard. To the FBI, all Chinese are perpetual foreigners and are presumed guilty until proven innocent--matters not whether the person is American born or first generation, if the person is American citizen or a foreign national from China.

Katrina Leung was FBI's highly prized asset for many years but once the bedroom romp with her handler, JJ Smith, was exposed, she was quickly branded a double agent. Code named “Parlor Maid,” she was the subject of the PBS Frontline expose on national TV but in the end, she was released from custody and all charges related to spying dismissed.

The Denise Woo case was even more remarkable. Woo was a highly commended FBI agent when she was asked by the special agent in charge, the same JJ Smith, to spy on another Chinese American.

She reported back that the suspect was an American born Chinese that spoke no Chinese and have not been any closer to China than Hawaii. But, she reported, the reliability of the informer pointing his finger at the Chinese American was shaky and may have another agenda. In response to Woo’s report, a chagrined FBI decided to indict her with 5 felony counts for allegedly abetting an enemy agent. Her case closed recently with her pleading to a misdemeanor charge to get on with her life.

Dr. Wen Ho Lee, then employed at Los Alamos, was in solitary confinement for nine months based on FBI evidence. The case blew up when the FBI agent in charge could not substantiate the charges under cross examination and had to attribute inconsistencies in his testimony to “honest mistakes.” The appalled presiding judge, in an unprecedented gesture, apologized to Lee on behalf of the United States government before dismissing the case.

The FBI will go to any length to get a conviction. Recently they caught Chi Mak red handed, ready to send back to China a CD of his own papers. Since the papers were already in the public domain, they couldn’t charge him as a master spy, as represented to the media, but for failing to register as an agent for China.

The FBI has a habit of sensationalize each case involving Chinese Americans and seemed not at all embarrassed when the outcome of their cases ends in a whimper. They just demonize the Chinese Americans further by attributing the lack of success to the slipperiness of their suspects.

A question we may well ask: Given their bias and prejudices, how much confidence do we have that the FBI possess the clear-headed objectivity to counter terrorists and protect America's homeland?