Monday, October 30, 2000

Asian American Ticket to the American Dream

Keynote speech, October 28, 2000
Seattle Area Asian American Professional Organizations Joint Fall Conference,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

It is a distinct pleasure and privilege to be with you today. Seattle is my adopted hometown. When I immigrated to the United States as a refugee, not knowing a word of English, Seattle was where I landed and where I grew up. My father was a research fisheries biologist with University of Washington, and I attended Laurelhurst Elementary, Nathan Eckstein and Hamilton Junior Hi and Lincoln High School. After I went to MIT for college, I had summer jobs at Boeing. I remember working one summer as interns when we carefully updated the original engineering drawings with all the engineering changes and advanced engineering changes. We were part of Boeing’s effort in converting the military tanker KC-135 into 707, the first commercial jet liner in the world. While my contribution is not even infinitesimal, I am proud to be part of Seattle’s history. Roughly some twenty years later, I was to make a business trip to Bellevue. When I got off the elevator at the wrong floor of the then only skyscraper in Bellevue, I walked into the office where a bunch of scruffy young kids was sitting around. Unfortunately I didn’t ask if I could buy some of their stock but those were the early days of the eventual software giant that has since moved to Redmond.

So as you can see, I have some real Seattle roots, and I presume, in common with many of you in the audience. I am very proud to be a former Seattleite. However, even though I lettered in varsity tennis, I am convinced that growing up in Seattle deprived me of any chance of becoming a Michael Chang. I simply didn’t see the sun often enough.

The organizers of this conference asked me to talk about what it means for a Chinese American to be successful in America. There are many Chinese Americans more prominent than I, more accomplished and with higher net worth, so I am not sure why I have been accorded this honor. However, as I grow older, I have become more opinionated and I rarely pass up the opportunity to sound off. So here I am and I will do my best on this subject.

Even as far back as the 19th century, the Chinese made contributions to America far beyond their numbers. The transcontinental railroad could not have been built without the Chinese taking on the most dangerous, life threatening tasks. The Chinese also took on jobs that no one else wanted, operating laundries, small shops and eating places. Despite their contributions, they were not given citizenships and cannot be called Chinese Americans. When the last spike was driven to link the transcontinental railroad and a photo taken to document the occasion, no Chinese can be seen in the historic photo. Instead, the Chinese in the Wild West were beaten, robbed and frequent victims of vigilante acts.

On the shores of the San Francisco Bay, there is now a state park on a beach where the Chinese used to catch the tiny bay shrimp, dry them and ship them back to China where dried shrimp has been and continues to be a favorite flavoring agent in cooking. In those days, the shrimp had no other commercial value and attracted interest from no one else. Nevertheless, the city passed a series of ordnances that restricted or prohibited shrimping on certain times of the year and drying on the beach. All for the purpose of stifling the Chinese without being explicitly racist.

Others more authoritative than I can tell you about the unjust and unfair laws, regulations or simply racist attitudes that prevailed in the U.S. against the Chinese up to and following World War II. I will simply relate to you a couple of personal experiences of mine.

When we moved into our first house in America, it was on 4th Avenue and 47th Street in the northeast section of Seattle, between University district and Wallingford. This is now one block away from Interstate 5. After living a university housing project for three years, we moved into the house in 1952, a modest home that my father could afford. On the first day we moved in, I remember an obviously inebriated man knocking on our door to tell us that “our kind” was not welcome. That was our welcome to the neighborhood. That was how our American dream got started.

In the ‘60s, my wife and I took a vacation on Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. A beach apparel shop was plastered with signs announcing an end of season sale. Being a Chinese, I couldn’t pass up a bargain, went in and selected a beach robe. When the manager of the store rang up the regular price, I said wait a minute, wasn’t this on sale? He said only some items were but not beach robes. When I said in that case I didn’t want the item, he blew his top. He was outraged and said people like me should go back to where ever I came from.

I am sure most of you have experiences of your own to tell. Stories of slights that you still remember vividly to this day, stories that remind you that you are still a foreigner in your own country. My parents used to remind me all the time, “don’t forget you are a Chinese. Don’t do anything to embarrass us.” For me, the consequence of all this admonition was to develop an attitude, an attitude that automatically assumed that I would have to put out more than 100% of effort to get the credit that my white colleague can get with less than 100%. Along with this attitude also came the desire to always outdo the white guys in every undertaking.

Indeed I began my professional career just about when the term, “model minority,” as a way of describing the Chinese Americans, came into vogue. We were considered a model minority because we had a lower crime rate, we held tight family values and we were academic achievers. Until the politicians got hold of the term, I believe the people that referred us as “a model minority” were sincere and did it out of admiration. However, even without condescension the term has some unfortunate consequences, one of which is a mental trap, namely, the presumption that if we keep our nose clean, behave and mind our own business, we will be OK. Not getting involved means staying away from volunteer organizations and local politics.
For much of the 20th century, the model minority concept worked reasonably well. Our willingness to mind our business and know our place fitted comfortably with the mainstream’s expectation that we know our places and cause no trouble. So long as we were content and willing to settle for professional rank and file positions and not expect or demand a shot at management positions, everything was copasetic. It didn’t seem to bother us that we could be senior engineers and scientists but not managers, that we could be professors but not deans or chancellors, that we could do the heavy lifting in the national labs but not serve as lab directors. It may not have been idyllic but it was a peaceful co-existence.

In recent years our willingness to get along as second-class citizens ran into trouble. In 1989, the evil empire known as USSR began to crumble and at the same time the world saw on TV the student protest on Tiananmen Square in China getting out of hand, culminating in bloodshed and tragedy. Since that day, the man standing in front of the tanks became forever imbedded in the media’s consciousness to be re-wound and replayed every June. It became the icon that demonized China. Zhongnanhai replaced the Kremlin and the leaders of China became the butchers of Beijing. For those in America disquieted by the sudden absence of an enemy, China conveniently stepped into the void as the next evil empire.

The next event that significantly affected the lives of Chinese Americans was the election of Bill Clinton as the president of the United States. For whatever reason and for reasons really beyond the scope of my presentation, President Clinton has managed to arouse the hatred of a certain segment of the American population. These people went thru millions of taxpayers’ money to go after Bill and Hillary Clinton ranging from Whitewater to travelgate to campaign contributions to Monica Lewinsky to Los Alamos. While this was basically a domestic political squabble, somehow we Chinese American by-standers were victimized.

How were we victimized? It has been estimated that the total amount of money spent at each presidential election run in the order of $2 billion, give or take a few hundred million. No body got hot and bothered about the source of funds except for the $2 million or so that Chinese Americans were accused of raising possibly from foreign sources. The senators and pundits making the accusation couldn’t even tell the difference between Chinese Americans, Chinese from PRC, Hsilai Temple Buddhists from Taiwan, or Indonesians that are ethnic Chinese. It didn’t matter. If an ethnic Chinese was involved, it must be sinister and it must have involved Beijing trying to influence the election. Imagine for a moment, how much influence $2 million can really be in changing the course of a history with the momentum of a couple of billion dollars.

John Huang, an assistant Commerce secretary, was made into the arch villain/fund raiser, for alleged irregularities--irregularities that never came into light of day. The only consequence is that his career ended in tatters and he in financial ruin. Even the famed Cox Report after pages and pages demonizing China, Chinese and Chinese Americans had to admit that John Huang never upgraded his level of access to confidential information even though he was entitled. He was observed not taking notes during briefing and not asking for documents that he could have asked for. In other words, they couldn’t find a single disloyal act upon close scrutiny.

The Cox Report, of course, has done more to alienate the Chinese Americans than any other act since the days of Joseph McCarthy. Unfortunately, your great state of Washington is complicit in this by virtue of the minority chair of the Select Committee being headed by Congressman Norm Dix. The Democrats on this committee must have been so glad that President Clinton escaped from the Lewinski scandal that they did not even protest the publication of this report. The report distorts, exaggerates, and fabricates, all for the purpose of demonizing China and embarrassing Clinton and by innuendo implying that somehow Clinton is letting the Chinese get away with absolutely everything worth stealing. Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation, in a report prepared by four eminent scientists and edited by Michael May, former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab tore the Cox Report to shreds. They concluded and I quote: “The report lacks scholarly rigor, and exhibits too many examples of sloppy research, factual errors and weakly justified inferences”—and in my opinion the Stanford group was being kind. Again the unfortunate by-product of the hysteria created by the Cox Report is to imply that all Chinese Americans are potential spies for PRC.

The Cox Report also led directly to the Wen Ho Lee case. In January 1999, the committee leaked the word that they had uncovered evidence of espionage by China whereby China had stolen the secrets of W88 multiple warhead and that the secrets were stolen from Los Alamos. This information turns out to be based on closed-door testimony given by Notra Trulock. Trulock was absolutely certain that the secrets were stolen with the help of a Chinese American. The code name the FBI used in their investigation was “kindred spirit,” so you can see that everybody in the counterintelligence business pretty much share the same foregone conclusion as to where to look for the culprit. This information was leaked to the New York Times, which led to the immediate firing of Wen Ho Lee. The news broke on March 6 and Richardson fired Lee on March 8.

After Lee was fired, cooler heads pointed out that W88 secrets could have been pilfered from literally hundred of places and not just from Los Alamos. Further there was no real evidence, other than Trulock’s overactive imagination, that China has really co-opted the W88 design. In fact to this day, China has not been observed to have made any multiple warhead missiles. At this point in mid 1999, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson must have been getting awfully uncomfortable with eggs on his face. He could have backed off. Instead he persisted on the Lee case. In the meantime, the FBI got lucky. They were roundly criticized for failing to conduct a wide and objective investigation, but while searching Lee’s home, they found evidence of Lee having downloaded restricted data. Somebody, I don’t know if it’s the FBI or someone else upgraded the classification of the restricted data into the “crown jewel” class so as to justify arresting Lee, throwing him in solitary confinement in a cell lit around the clock, isolating him from the outside contact including TV, and subjecting him to chain and shackle for the one hour of fresh air each day.

As you all must know, the Wen Ho Lee case has become a cause celebré. Asian Americans who have been actively working on getting Wen Ho Lee fair and due process are now clamoring for an impartial panel to conduct public hearing on this case. The feeling is that until all the details of this case are out in the open, there can be no closure.

The Wen Ho Lee case has driven home a point that should be increasingly obvious to us all. Namely, uneasy lies your American dream if you are satisfied with being a second-class citizen. In our case being second-class doesn’t mean an increase probability in getting pulled off the road. You don’t fit that profile. But your loyalty is suspect and you are not entitled to the customary rights of presumed innocent until proven guilty. Even if you do your best to keep your head down and avoid trouble, trouble can come to your doorsteps anyway due to circumstances beyond your control.

Whether you like it or not, whatever your political inclination may be, and how ever you might feel about Taiwan and China, your American dream is intimately tied to the U.S. China relationship. When China is regarded as a friend of the White House and U.S. Congress, we are the model minority. When China becomes the demon in America’s eyes, we become potential enemy agents. As the campaign finance scandal has shown and as what happened to Wen Ho Lee has confirmed, to the mainstream America, a Chinese is a Chinese, or in many cases, an Asian is an Asian. They don’t care or necessarily know how to make the distinction between those that came from Mainland China or Taiwan or elsewhere in Asia or those born in America. There is no escaping the broad profile cast to fit us all.

Before concluding on where do we go from here, I would like to share with you my experiences and observations of Silicon Valley. Deloitte & Touché, my employer, conducts an annual survey of fastest growing, technology companies in America. The survey is based on the compounded growth rate in revenue over the most recent 5-year period. Every region has a list of fast 50 companies, which is consolidated into a national Fast 500. This year from Silicon Valley, the top three and five of the top eight fastest growing companies are founded and/or headed by a Chinese American CEO. In case you are interested, the five are Yahoo, Pctel, Nvidia, Broadvision and Viador. Yahoo is the only company not headed by a Chinese American CEO, but as you all know founder Jerry Yang has become a worldwide icon for the Internet age.

Even for Silicon Valley, where Asian Americans found 30% of the companies, 5 out of top 8 are pretty remarkable. I have been living and working in Silicon Valley for nearly 30 years and have had a ringside seat. I can tell you, it wasn’t always this way. Twenty years ago, Asian American entrepreneurs had to band together and form their own network and associations. Ten years ago, most of the blue ribbon venture capital funds had no Asian American partners. Today, most of them do. How did this happen? I think the current generation of successful entrepreneurs owes a debt to the pioneers who broke through the glass ceiling and proved that they can manage a company as well as doing the technical work.

David Lee founded Qume, a daisy wheel printer company, which was sold to ITT and he became one of the earliest senior executives of a Fortune 100 company. Even though public speaking is not his favorite activity, he is seen frequently in public forum sharing his experience with the younger generation. David Lam founded Lam Research, a major semiconductor equipment company. He went on to found or lead a series of companies. He is active in various associations such as Asian American Manufacturers Association and served as advisor to many other start-ups. Pauline Lo Alker is also a serial entrepreneur and widely recognized and honored for her achievements. She makes a point of allocating part of her time coaching young Asian entrepreneurs, and served as role model to young women entrepreneurs. Lester Lee founded his own company called Recortec but devotes much of his time serving on the board of Chinese related organizations. All of these people support political candidates and are involved in fund raising efforts for them. Lester was the first Chinese American to serve on the board of regent for University of California. David Lee is a current regent.

Thanks to the organizing skills of people like Barry Chang, the Bay Area has become a must visit place for Asian American political candidates in search of financial support. Your governor Gary Locke has been a regular visitor. When Barry organizes a fundraiser, he gets young people involved by getting the students to preside over the fundraiser and introduce the speakers and candidates. His goal is to get young people engaged early. Barry’s publicly stated goal is to see a Chinese American as the president of the United States.

The Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund was started by a handful of Chinese Americans in the Bay Area. We met Alberta, Lee’s daughter in September of last year, and began letters of protest, fund raising, and discussions with the media. Eventually Chinese Americans from all over the country got into the act that then pulled in other Asians and the rest of American public was made aware that justice in the Lee’s case was not being served.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think it is pretty obvious where we go from here. Second class citizenship, with or without the moniker of model minority, just isn’t going to cut it any more. Even if you can be satisfied with a permanent seat in the back of the bus, is it right to leave this legacy for future generations of Asian Americans? How can you be sure that your middle class, or even upper middle class, respectability won’t be stripped away in a moment’s notice when a scapegoat is needed? Or that you won’t be shot dead by the police because they fear your martial arts capability even if you are drunk and can barely stand, as it happened to a Chinese scientist in Santa Rosa, California? Or that you won’t be clubbed to death because some Detroit workers thought you were Japanese, as it happened to Vincent Chin?

This is only one way. That is to make sure you belong to the first class with full rights pertaining to the citizenship of the United States. If you have been living in the U.S. for any length of time, you would have heard the saying: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” What it means is that you will have to act like a regular citizen before you can be treated like one. Register and vote. Speak up about issues in public forum and with letters to the editor. Show up in town hall meetings with your Congressional representative. Support political candidates. Run for office. Be a volunteer in local community. Every day, look everybody in the eye with the bearing that says I belong here, this is my country too.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” For Asian Americans, a variation should read: “Vigilant insistence of all rights due a citizen so that there will be no more Wen Ho Lees.”

Friday, October 13, 2000

The Impact of the Wen Ho Lee Case on Asian Americans

Remarks before the China Institute, New York, October 13, 2000

Before I begin, I want to make one point crystal clear. I am an American. I am proud to be an American. I pay my taxes, vote regularly –certainly more often than some of our candidates running for the highest offices in this land. I’ve worked as volunteer worker for candidates that I believe in, at the local and national level. I belong here. I resent that this clarification is even necessary. If my subsequent remarks seem anti- America, then I am being misunderstood. I am critical of certain institutions of America but not America. Quite the contrary, I am motivated by the desire to help make America a better place for my kids and grandkids.

As other speakers of this conference will attest, the behavior of the U.S. government in conduct of the Wen Ho Lee case has been no better, I repeat no better, than the behavior of 3rd world dictatorships that the U.S. is so wont to criticize. By now everybody should be familiar with the particulars of this case, I would simply like to summarize certain aspects relevant to how this case has affected Asian Americans—which is the topic of my presentation. However, I must acknowledge one crucial difference: in a third world country, I would not be able to stand before you and say what I am about to say. And that’s what makes this country great, unless the FBI comes and takes me away after this speech.

When this case first broke in March 1999, the presumption by the general public was that the government has caught a spy. Whether orchestrated or just happened that way, the country was at near hysteria over nuclear crown jewels allegedly stolen by China, thanks to a series of leaks from the Cox Committee. (I will come back and amplify my views on the Cox Committee.) On March 6, the New York Times trumpeted on the front page that the W-88 secrets were stolen from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the spy was a Chinese American employee in the lab. W-88 for those that might not have been following the story closely stands for multiple warhead missiles that the United States developed in the 1970s. Two days later, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson fired Dr. Wen Ho Lee. Instantly Dr. Lee was tried and convicted by the media all across the country. From then until he was arrested in December, from sunrise to sun down, Lee had four FBI agents as his constant companions. Brian Sun the attorney representing the family will be speaking and I leave it for him to describe how Dr. Lee was treated.

Now let me discuss how this case affected Chinese Americans and how they reacted. The first thing that struck some of us was the complete lack of due process in this case. The judiciary due process was turned completely upside down. Dr. Lee was presumed guilty and it was up to him to prove otherwise. Shortly after Lee’s high profile dismissal, the Committee of 100 was having their annual conference in New York on April 30 and May 1 and we invited Secretary Richardson to speak. He accepted, I believe, because he was anxious to explain his action. In fact he was to devote a significant portion of his time in ensuing months explaining, explaining to Asian American communities, explaining to the employees of the laboratories and explaining to the American public that racial profiling played no role in the victimization of Dr. Lee. Knowing that he was coming, we convinced ABC Nightline to cover his speech. We found two Chinese American scientists from Lawrence Livermore, a sister lab within the Energy Department, brave enough to come and meet with Secretary Richardson to tell him about racial prejudice that has been running through the laboratories and now exacerbated by the Wen Ho Lee case. Again, I expect that Ms. Kalin Wong will address more fully this issue of racial discrimination in our national laboratories.

Nightline didn’t run this program until June because Kosovo was a hot topic in May. The Nightline program was the first nation-wide media coverage of the case that suggested that there might be more to the story than simply a case of a Chinese American spy. If you saw the program, you would see that Secretary Richardson did not come out particularly well in this 30-minute piece. His image was tarnished even further by the CBS 60 Minutes piece that came out in August.

In latter part of May, the much-ballyhooed report from the House Select Committee headed by Congressman Christopher Cox was finally released. Henry Tang, the chairman of the Committee sent me a copy in time for my business trip to Korea, and I read over much of the 900-page report while on my trip. 900 pages may seem a lot to you, but actually it was a fairly easy read. The hard part was lugging the report around. The report unlike most government publications is nicely formatted, with a lot of photos and colorful charts, in large fonts and full of statements in bold face. It is a slick piece of work. More like a product of Madison Avenue than staid Capitol Hill.

The only problem with this report is that it contains flat out misrepresentations, gross exaggerations, flying leaps of logic and claims that cannot stand up to rigorous scrutiny. As a matter of fact, an immediate chorus of ridicule and protest from the public greeted this report culminating in a 100 page report from Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation prepared by four eminent scientists and edited by Michael May, former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The Stanford study tore the Cox Report to shreds. They concluded and I quote: “The report lacks scholarly rigor, and exhibits too many examples of sloppy research, factual errors and weakly justified inferences”—and in my opinion the Stanford group was being kind.

One of many accusations in the Cox report is China’s theft of the W88 multiple head missiles. Former Senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), is the chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which made an independent review of the espionage allegations at the request of President Clinton and in response to the Cox Report. He said in a recent interview appearing in the Washington Post, "It is my belief that there was no espionage involved with the W-88 data obtained by the Chinese.” As far as China's new, smaller warhead, Rudman said, "What they did, they did on their own."

The reason I am dwelling so much on the Cox Report is not just because this is the most disgusting and disgraceful piece of work to come out of Congress since Senator Joseph McCarthy days, which it is, but because this report victimized all Chinese Americans living in this country. This report accused China of practicing mosaic espionage. What they mean by this is that China is patient and willing to collect random tidbits and piece them together into one devastating breach in national security. And who do they turn to, to collect these tidbits? Why the Chinese Americans living in this country, of course. The so-called kindred spirits that FBI also referred to in the Los Alamos case. What sort of evidence did the Cox Report offer to back up their claim? Nothing. Zippo. Not one shred of hard data.

Let me give you just one example of how the Cox committee reached their conclusions. The report indicates that the State Department can identify 2 companies from China based in the U.S. with connections to the People’s Liberation Army. The AFL-CIO, no friend of China as you all know, thinks it closer to 12 or more. The Committee concludes that the number is closer to 3000! 3000 companies sent from China connected to the PLA for the ostensible purpose of collecting tidbits big and small. Where did the committee arrive at the 3000 number? The report did not say. The report then talks about the 100,000 students from China that are in the U.S. and goes on to speculate about the instructions they were given by the Beijing government on the kind of information they should collect. The report makes no distinction between visitors from China on a short trip and those that might be living in the U.S. as permanent residents. The implication is that all Chinese Americans are potential spies.

The federal prosecutors slapped 59 charges including possibility of life imprisonment on Dr. Lee to end up with one admission of guilt for time served. The Cox Committee took 2 companies from the State and blew it up into 3000 sinister covert operations. Do you not see a common pattern here?

The Cox committee is not the only one subscribing to this line of thinking. Notra Trulock, the former chief of counter-intelligence, according to the press reports I have read, was absolutely convinced that China had stolen the multiple nuclear warhead missile technology from the U.S., the so-called W-88 missile. And he, Trulock knew exactly how it happened. Los Alamos was where the leaks occurred and a Chinese American scientist was where to look. Of course, some time after Trulock received a commendation and $10,000 cash award from Richardson, others point out that information on the W-88 could have been obtained in literally hundreds of places. Still others in addition to Senator Rudman question whether China really had taken the W-88 secrets and how useful the technology developed in 1970’s would have been for China. According to numerous published sources such as a recent article in Current History, to this day China has yet to build any multiple head missiles.

Bob Vrooman is also on today’s program and perhaps he will share his views of Trulock with you. Let me simply quote Charles E. Washington, former acting director of counterintelligence at the Energy Department, who said, "Based on my experience and my personal knowledge, I believe that Mr. Trulock improperly targeted Dr. Lee due to Dr. Lee's race and national origin." He goes on to say, "Based upon my personal experience with Mr. Trulock, I strongly believe that he acts vindictively and opportunistically, that he improperly uses security issues to punish and discredit others, and that he has racist views toward minority groups.”

Mr. Trulock of course isn’t the only one with bigoted views working inside our government. Until their recent falling out, FBI apparently shares Trulock’s view. Throughout their investigation of Los Alamos and Wen Ho Lee, the code name was “kindred spirit.” Kindred spirit, not too subtle are they? Certainly sounds like they knew who their man was going to be even before they started their investigation, doesn’t it? After Dr. Wen Ho Lee was fired by Richardson, Mr. Paul Moore, another speaker in today’s program, was seen on Jim Lehrer’s hour proclaiming that yes, FBI practices racial profiling but that’s because The People’s Republic of China targets Chinese Americans as their preferred sources. In other words, the Chinese made them do it. Mr. Moore did not offer any proof for his statements but claims to know that this is the case, based on his experience from some 20 years of his career with the FBI. In a way very convenient, when Mr. Moore went public with his theory about the Chinese method to spying, he had already retired from FBI so that his remarks cannot be used to directly discredit FBI.

Of course since Mr. Moore went public with his theory of mosaic spying, there have been many others in government and in the intelligence business that have directly refuted his theory. For example, again I quote Mr. Washington: “In the counterintelligence training I have received and in my counterintelligence experience, I am unaware of any empirical data that would support a claim that Chinese- Americans are more likely to commit espionage than other Americans. Further, I know of no analysis whatsoever that has been done as to whether American citizens born in Taiwan would be more likely to commit espionage for the People's Republic of China.”

Since America is founded on the principle that a man or an ethnic group is innocent until proven guilty, I will say no more but defer to Mr. Moore to make his case. Hopefully he will have more specific and convincing evidence to present today than simply requiring us to accept his word on good faith.

Based on FBI conduct on the Lee case, good faith is not going to be easy to come by. The FBI lied to Lee and lied to the presiding judge. The FBI interrogators threatened Lee with the electric chair. They rejected the results of the first test, which Lee passed—with flying colors according to the tester but now according to FBI director Louie Freeh was inconclusive. The FBI re-administered the lie detector test under such conditions as to come up with “inconclusive” results. They did what they had to do so that the government can justify arresting Lee, deny him bail and throw him in solitary confinement, in a 7 by 13 cell with the light turned on around the clock, restrict his access to outside contact including TV and chain and shackled him for his one hour of exercise per day.

You might ask: Why would the most democratic nation in the world, the one that goes around monitoring and criticizing other nations for real and imagined abuses of human rights, resort to the very Gestapo tactics that they normally deplore? We will not likely ever get an official response to this question but the answer is clear to me. They thought they could intimidate a 5 ft 4, 60 year old Chinese man, they thought they could apply enough pressure to get him to cave in and sign a confession, any confession to get them off the hook. Unfortunately for Lee and his tormentors, this is a case of cultural misunderstanding. They simply did not understand that the quiet, mild manner demeanor of an Asian scholar does not mean the person is a willing foil easily run over and coerced. To his credit, Dr. Lee came out of the nine months of solitary by authoring a textbook in mathematics and two scientific journal articles. I don’t think there are many of us that could have done as well in such an enforced sabbatical.

So what has this case done to this country?

We saw a presiding judge apologize to Lee, who had to strike the bargain of becoming a convicted felon for his freedom. Before dismissing Lee, Judge Parker apologizes to him for the prosecutorial abuse by the U.S. government. If this isn’t unprecedented, I don’t know what is.

We saw the most influential news daily of America, namely the New York Times, publish a self-criticism in the form of an editor’s review acknowledging that “we fell short of our standards on our coverage of this story.” The editors generously fell on their own sword and did not put the blame on the offending reporters, saying “the blame lies principally with those who directed the coverage, for not raising questions that occurred to us only later.”

We saw the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine collectively write to the president asking for due process for Lee. These organizations represent the highest scientific bodies in this country.

We also heard the lamentations of the directors of the national labs because Asian Americans and foreign-born scientists are not applying for positions at the labs. Not only no new applications, but they are leaving in droves. The direct aftermath of this case is shattered morale among the staff of the national labs. No spy whatever the origin could have wreaked as much damage as the Department of Energy, the Congress, the FBI and the Department of Justice have done to our national security in their handling of this case.

As a most thoughtful op-ed appearing in points out: America has always depended on immigrant scientists to retain her superiority as the world leader in technology. This case has now sent a chilling message to all foreign born scientists whether they are working here or contemplating coming to heretofore the land of opportunity. If you can work for 20 years in a national lab and still risk sudden dismissal, get thrown into jail and have your life turned inside out, the American dream suddenly doesn’t look quite so golden. It remains to be seen how this self-inflicted gash on our national psyche will heal.

What has not changed is the almost reflexive reaction of those in the government to stonewall and if possible finish the scapegoating of Wen Ho Lee they began in jail. FBI director Freeh insists that they could have won if they persisted and Lee is really guilty of the 59 counts. Oh really now. Attorney General Reno insists that when national security is at stake, draconian measures such as those levied against Lee is justified.

While the potential abuse of prosecutorial power in the name of national security is a matter of concern raised by many, the Asian Americans have found Reno’s justification viscerally troubling. They remember when President Franklin Roosevelt also invoked the threat to national security as justification for putting 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry behind barb-wired detention camps. Attorney General Reno may have forgotten but not the Asian Americans.

Dr. Lee’s case may well represent a new dawn for Asian Americans in this country. He himself represents the old school Chinese American. He does note vote. He minds his own business and he doesn’t get involved. He doesn’t even read the newspapers according to his daughter. He is fortunate that he is living in an era where not all Chinese Americans and Asian Americans are like him. First, he is lucky to have been introduced to a Mark Holscher, a thoroughly decent man and former federal prosecutor, who was so moved by the injustice that he not only served pro bono but also recruited others to the cause. Second, he found enough Asian Americans that are no longer willing to be passive bystanders.

In September of last year, Lee’s daughter, Alberta, Brian Sun and Mark Holscher came to the Bay area to tell their story before a group of Chinese Americans. This was the beginning of the Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund. When the San Jose Mercury News reported this meeting, it was one of the earliest public indications that not everybody agreed with the way the government was stating the case.

Early this year, the Committee of 100 organized a three-hour, nation-wide conference call involving some 20 organizations followed by a series of calls with smaller groups to hammer out a letter of concern on the Wen Ho Lee case sent to President Clinton and Attorney General Reno. San Francisco based Chinese for Affirmative Action and Asian Law Caucus organized a national coalition, which staged simultaneous multi-city protests of the government’s treatment of Wen Ho Lee. From coast to coast, Chinese Americans got involved. They also got Asian Americans involved and eventually mainstream noticed. Our activism in getting all the facts out led to public reflection and played to the American sense of fairness and justice. Mainstream organizations ranging from scientific and professional societies to American Civil Liberties Union to Amnesty International and eventually to all the major daily newspapers joined in the national indignation and condemnation.

So have we won? Not by a long shot. Not until there is a blue ribbon panel, impartial and unburdened by politics, look into the origin of this case. We need answers to at least the following questions:

(1) Why is it that if China is so prolific in their recruiting and spying activity, the Cox Report names only one Chinese American as having passed information to China? Mind you, this person was sentenced to 12 months in a halfway house, fined and made to do certain number of hours of community service. Hardly an Aldrich Ames serving life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

(2) While we are on this vein, perhaps we should ask the FBI as to how many spies they have apprehended versus the number of Chinese American scientists they have intimidated and badgered for no justifiable cause? I personally know of several victims in the Bay Area whose careers were destroyed by the FBI. Mr. Moore for example spent 20 years allegedly monitoring the Chinese in America, how many arrests and convictions can he claim? Parenthetically, in my early days of going to China on business, I would be interviewed by CIA agents and sometimes by FBI agents on my return. I cooperated willingly thinking that I was helping our government better understand China. Little did I know that I was participating in reverse mosaic espionage.

(3) I would like to know where the oft-used reference to the 400,000 pages of nuclear secret came from. If 800 megabytes of downloaded data consist of only text, it would approximate 13 stories of paper, as prosecutor Bay likes to dramatize. But 800 MB of equations, graphs, drawings can be rather unspectacular in the amount of paper it would take. I don’t know if the prosecutors are ignorant of subtleties of computer software or just plain prone to exaggerate.

(4) I certainly would like to know if racial profiling entered into this case and if so the respective role of Notra Trulock, the FBI, the federal prosecutors and senior members of the Clinton Administration. The defense asked for government documents that would reveal whether racial profiling had anything to do with this case. Presiding Judge Parker was about to grant this request when the case was settled. I believe the American people have a right to know the content of these documents. Only a public inquiry has any chance of giving us the answers.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have not won until all Asian Americans are treated just like any other citizens in this country. We have not won until we are represented in government leadership positions as well as in worker bee positions. We have not won until we get paid the same amount for same work done. We have not won until we are not automatically assumed to be a foreign spy unless we can prove otherwise. We have not won, if people still ask us where we came from.

Asian Americans have been energized by the Wen Ho Lee case, but this is not the end of the story. Did you know that when San Jose Mercury News first broke the story about Bay Area Chinese Americans meeting with Lee’s daughter and defense team, the reporter got crank phone calls and threatening email? Someone should ask the newspaper if the reason for reassigning the Wen Ho Lee beat to Dan Stober from the original Chinese American journalist wasn’t because of their concerns of racist backlash.

Most recently, William Safire, the senior columnist of New York Times and well-known cold war dinosaur, is still using the term “anti-McCarthyism” in a pejorative sense. In his essay dated September 25, 2000 commenting on the Wen ho Lee case, he observes that “anti-McCarthyism suppressed anti-Communism once before.” Clearly anti-Communism is his Holy Grail and he certainly doesn’t see anything wrong with McCarthyism if that will get him the Holy Grail.

Tony Hillerman, arguably the best known fiction writer from New Mexico, where the Lee case originated, said, “A lot of us were deeply concerned about what they (the Justice department) were doing to the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Dr. Lee is an American citizen. If he could be locked up without bail and without trial in violation of our basic law, how safe are the rest of us?” Until we have an overwhelming majority of Hillermans and until we can consign Safires to the endangered species list, we have not won.

Thomas Jefferson said, "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.” A logical corollary for Asian Americans should read: vigilant insistence on all rights due us as American citizens or there will be more Wen Ho Lees.