The government campaign, and big business media coverage of the frame-up and jailing of Lee, targets democratic rights and dovetails with Washington's preparations for military confrontations with the Chinese workers state down the road.
Lee was fired from his job at the lab last March in the wake of a government investigation into China's development of a sophisticated, miniaturized nuclear weapons delivery system said to be similar to Washington's W-88 nuclear warhead, which allows multiple atomic weapons to be loaded onto a single missile.
Washington has a strategic advantage over China in the number of nuclear weapons and quality of its missile delivery systems. China is reported to have 20 intercontinental missiles, capable of carrying only a single warhead each, that can reach North America.
According to the New York Times, the Navy puts five of the W-88 bombs on each of 24 missiles carried by the Trident nuclear submarine, for a total of 192 of the thermonuclear weapons per boat. The "Navy is adding them to its Pacific fleet, so in the next few years the W-88 is likely to be aimed at China," the Times reports.
Although Lee has never actually been charged with espionage, he was arrested December 10 on 59 felony counts of mishandling classified information stored on computers at the government lab. After a three-day hearing, U.S. District Judge James Parker denied Lee's application for bail, spurring the government's smear that Lee might pass secret nuclear weapons information allegedly in his possession to another country if he is not kept behind bars.
Unnamed "experts" at Los Alamos now claim that Lee downloaded the equivalent of some 800,000 pages of information on Washington's nuclear weapons, enough to "change the world's strategic balance," as one claimed. FBI agent Robert Messemer, the chief government witness, added to the story by stating that Lee had called another scientist on the phone in 1982 who was "under investigation" for espionage.
Unbeknownst to Lee, the FBI had taped his phone call. Messemer further charged that Lee had met with scientists and officials from China over a decade ago, and that he used false data to get around Los Alamos computer security systems when copying material labeled "secret."
The government never produced evidence at the time Lee was fired from his job that Lee's meetings with Chinese scientists were prohibited. Lee's attorneys have explained that missing computer tapes the government alleges to have been passed to China had been destroyed. His use of lab computer data fell within legal guidelines, Lee's lawyers said.
California Democratic party Senator Dianne Feinstein added her voice to the frame-up climate by charging that the University of California, which operates the Los Alamos lab as well as the Lawrence Livermore lab in northern California, were not serious in guarding against leaks of secret information. At a June 1999 closed-door Senate hearing, which featured Attorney General Janet Reno testifying on the Lee affair, Feinstein said academic freedom seems to have jeopardized national security.
In an attack on the day-to-day collaboration that takes place among scientists, Feinstein questioned whether the "culture of interaction'' at the national labs, encouraging employees to participate in symposiums and share information with nonlab colleagues, is "an appropriate framework for America's essentially deepest and darkest nuclear secrets.''
Lee is being held in solitary confinement near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he may stay for as long as a year while his trial is prepared. He is allowed visits only from his immediate family and attorneys. Visits are limited to one hour a week. A guard remains by Lee's side in the visiting room.
At Lee's bail hearing, Messemer told the judge that Lee had to be isolated from others because "a single utterance" might give away national secrets, and that the Chinese language itself was structured for deception. While Lee's supporters laughed in protest at the cop's racist allegations, the federal judge agreed to prohibit him from speaking Chinese with his family. Reporters at the bail hearing filled out the picture, echoing long-standing racist images of Chinese as mysterious, emotionless, and timid people.
Asian-American civil rights and scientific organizations, from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association to the Chinese Physics Association and the Asian American Manufacturers Association, have begun to come to Lee's defense. They view Lee has having been singled out because he is Chinese. Some point to the U.S. government's increasing hostility to China in creating a climate of anti-Asian prejudice.
"We're going to support him morally and monetarily,'' said Bill Chang, president of the Chinese-American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California, which has more than a thousand members. "I'm not saying he's not a criminal, but that this has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and the process has to be fair,'' Chang said.
"From what I've seen so far, this looks like prejudice and overkill. We've never done anything like this before, but I've been getting a lot of calls from our members. They're very scared and angry. They're really upset about what this means for them.''
Meanwhile, nine workers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the Bay Area have filed a lawsuit charging the lab with discrimination against Asian-Americans in hiring, promotions, and pay rates. The workers told the San Francisco Chronicle that their fight was "part of the continuing fallout from the treatment of Wen Ho Lee" in Los Alamos. Lee and his wife Sylvia are also suing the Department of Energy, which operates the labs, as well as the FBI and Justice Department for giving confidential information on them to the news media in violation of federal privacy laws.
The "spy scare" being whipped up around Lee comes as Washington steps up its ongoing campaign to weaken and ultimately overturn the Chinese workers state. This includes moves to install a missile defense system in south Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, which would enable the United States to launch a first strike nuclear attack on China without fear of retaliation.
In 1995, U.S. warships sailed through the narrow Straits of Taiwan in a demonstration of U.S. naval power off the Chinese coast. Last year, Washington announced plans to beef up the Taiwanese military forces with Aegis destroyers and advanced jet fighters. An earlier "spy scare" in 1997 led to the conviction of another Taiwanese-born scientist, Peter Lee, for supposedly leaking secret information to China. The documents in question turned out to be declassified after all.
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