Apocalypse Not

Sidney Zion - NY Post - September 12, 2000


Yes, if you remember the words of the federal prosecutors three weeks ago, in a bail hearing for Wen Ho Lee, the nuclear scientist who allegedly stole the "crown jewels" of our arsenal and delivered them to China.

The prosecutors said: "There is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of this country if Lee is released."

So what do we do now that the same guys this weekend agreed to let him go free, in a plea bargain that would make any second-story burglar jealous?

That deal hit an unexplained snag yesterday, but the government's case remains D.O.A.

Of course, the real thing that has come out of this case is that we can't trust the government. They told us that our cities were no longer safe from China, and now they admit in federal court that they had nothing on Lee, the great American Chinese spy.

If anything demands a congressional investigation, this is it. The Justice Department smeared Lee for years, suggesting without indictment that he was the man who put our nation in danger of Chinese nuclear destruction.

They kept him in jail without bail for nine months, every day leaking stuff that they knew they could never prove. It was McCarthyism from Day One, and worse.

Because Lee never asked for a lawyer while being interrogated for three years by the FBI. He was under no restraint during this time, his passport wasn't pulled. If he wanted to fly to Beijing, there was no way we could have stopped him.

Instead, Lee cooperated with the FBI. And nothing ever happened, they found nothing except what they started with: He downloaded stuff that was classified.

Meanwhile,other nuclear scientists from Los Alamos, where Lee was stationed, testified in court that virtually everything he kept on his computer was in the public domain - the Chinese and the world had access to it all.

But the Justice Department continued, even against an argument that they were indulging in "racist profiling" - picking on a Chinese-American for his race alone.

There is something facially to this charge - white guys who were maybe more appropriate for investigation were left out - but I don't think it's the big deal here.

What matters is that, white or Chinese, the Justice Department indulged in Cold War politics, in McCarthyism, in an effort to scare the hell out of the American people without evidence.

What's really bizarre is that the Clinton administration has been accused of "covering up" for Chinese spying. It's quite crazy, this charge, because Clinton's Justice Department has from the first destroyed the reputation of Wen Ho Lee, accusing him of putting America in danger of nuclear disaster.

The politics of war notwithstanding, what we need now is a bipartisan probe into how this happened. How did a man who we were told was the quintessential enemy of the people get a pass from the very prosecutors who informed us that he could destroy our country?

Apocalypse now - or hyperbole yesterday?

  • Wen Ho Lee Page