July 12, 1999


In 1995, a Chinese intelligence agent walked in out of the cold and confessed to the CIA that China was engaged in a large-scale espionage operation in the US which had succeeded in obtaining vital US nuclear secrets. The spy handed over sensitive documents, purportedly stolen by Chinese agents – and the witch-hunt against Chinese-American scientists was on.


The spy-hunters soon had their quarry cornered: Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was confronted with accusations that he had handed over vital secrets to the Chinese government. The evidence? Mr. Lee had been to scientific conferences in China; he had been seen hugging an alleged Chinese agent; he had once made a suspicious telephone call to another alleged Chinese spy. Pretty hot stuff, eh?


The most serious allegation, however, was that he had downloaded the top secret "legacy codes," a computer database recounting the history of U.S. nuclear weapons development. Much is made of these secret codes by the conservative wing of the War Party: Aha! Here, at last, is the proverbial smoking gun. What the Cox Report fails to mention, however, is that these much-vaunted codes are virtually useless. According to John A. Pike, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, the difference between the outdated codes downloaded by Lee and the codes currently in use "is the difference between the special effects in a 1950s movie like Destination Moon – a cardboard rocket on a thread – and what you see now in Star Wars. In computer jargon, the term 'legacy' means 'obsolete.'"


Convicted in the media – and especially by the New York Times, which has taken the lead in giving credence to the charges – and depicted by Republicans as the man at the center of the most spectacular case of espionage since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the diminutive Mr. Lee denies the accusations. What he downloaded was unclassified; his trips to China were approved by his superiors; he has cooperated with the investigation in every possible way. And he has yet to be charged with any crime. In a photo taken a few months ago, near his home in Los Alamos, Mexico, he smiles at the camera and appears quite cheerful. It looks like he might even be laughing. But what's so funny about being branded a traitor?


The joke is that Lee will probably never be charged with any crime: the FBI could not even muster sufficient evidence against him to justify a phone tap. Not only that, but it turns out that Lee consented to having his wife become an FBI informant, who taped her conversations with Chinese scientists. Some Chinese spy! But what really takes the cake is the news that, in return for his cooperation, the FBI then ran a sting operation against him: agents approached Lee, ostensibly on behalf of the Chinese government, asking him to spy for China. He refused. Instead of being persecuted, hounded by the media and the government (or do I repeat myself?), Wen Ho Lee should be given a medal for enduring such relentless abuse.


If Wen Ho Lee really is a Commie spy, as the resurgent Cold Warriors of the Right aver, then why hasn't the Left come to Lee's defense? Why are they wasting their time on a loser like Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is obviously guilty? With the recent revelations in Vanity Fair that Jamal admitted to feeling "regret" over killing a police officer, the cat is out of the bag – not that this will stop them from canonizing him as a holy martyr.


But what about Wen Ho Lee, accused of spying for "Red" China – why haven't our homegrown Reds and Parlour Pinks come rushing to his defense? One reason is because the labor unions are a key component of the Hate China Lobby, along with Gary Bauer and David Horowitz. Another echoes the old Sino-Soviet split of the sixties: the remnants of the Old Left and their political periphery are viscerally hostile to Beijing, whom they blame, in part, for the breakup of the USSR. For old Commies, Wen Ho Lee is a poor substitute for Julius Rosenberg. Unlike the Rosenbergs, and Mumia, Lee is innocent – and perhaps we have stumbled, however unintentionally, on the real reason for leftist disinterest in his case.


Fired from his job for downloading unclassified files for his own use into his secured computer, Lee denies passing information on to the Chinese government or anyone else. Accused, but not charged – Lee's status is similar, in this atmosphere, to that of every other Chinese-American scientist working in defense-related facilities, and to millions of Chinese-Americans from every walk of life whose loyalties are questioned by the authors of the Cox Report. In breathless tones more appropriate to a cheap novel than a congressional report, we are treated by the authors of the Report to the tale of one Yen Men Kao, whose Chinese takeout in North Carolina was a front for a Chinese spy operation.


And it isn't just Chinese restaurants – Chinese dissidents and others fleeing from an oppressive Communist system aren't to be trusted, either. The Cox Report solemnly informs us that these could be "sleeper agents, who can be used at any time but may not be tasked for a decade or more"! What have the members of the Cox committee been smoking? What this means is that no one of Chinese extraction is to be immune from official suspicion, and that American-born citizens of Chinese descent, as well as all Chinese immigrants, are to be treated as potential Manchurian candidates.


The authors of this pernicious Report could never have gotten away with such blatant racism if our great enemy were, say, the Congo, or South Africa, instead of China. Because in that case, African-Americans would be the suspected fifth column, singled out as potential traitors on account of their race – but naturally that would never be allowed to happen!


Chinese-American scientists and scholars are singled out for special abuse. As the Cox Report puts it, "the PRC [People's Republic of China] is increasingly looking to PRC scholars who remain in the United States as assets who have developed a network of personal contacts that can be helpful to the PRC's search for science and technology development." Not since the rise of the California Workingman's party of the 1800s and the Anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese Exclusion movements in the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century, have we seen such an explicit appeal to anti-Chinese sentiment raised at such a high level.


Conservative Republicans do not have a monopoly on the China issue. While Gary Bauer has been denouncing China from the Right, Democratic stalwart congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the quintessential San Francisco Democrat, has been excoriating them for years from the Left. The four Democrats on the Cox committee all signed on to the report, including Norman Dicks of Washington. The new vogue for anti-Chinese racism is a bipartisan affair. But, like all fashions, both political and sartorial, there is nothing new about it: it is the same old West Coast fear of Oriental subversion


The Yellow Peril is back, and there is more than a touch of explicit racism in the propaganda of the Hate China Lobby. Unlike the more traditional forms of American racism, however, which looks down on other races (blacks, Latinos, etc.) as inferior, fear and hatred of the Chinese is generated by the sense that they are superior.


Chinese-Americans, lauded as the "model minority," have been the primary victims of affirmative action on the West Coast, barred from choice high schools and colleges on account of their race and their ability. Known for their preference for and proficiency in the sciences, Chinese-American students and immigrant scholars consistently outperform their Caucasian, African-American, Latino, and other minority classmates; intelligence testing reveals a similarly consistent pattern. A corrosive American youth culture that devalues academic achievement has largely been resisted by the Chinese community, where the old values of work, study, and family are largely intact. The resentment from other minority groups is a palpable presence in the schools, and a not-so-subtle undercurrent in "adult" politics.


The Cox Report has mobilized this sentiment, and given it a focus: it is the Mein Kampf of the Hate China Lobby, a manifesto of militant Sinophobia that posits an all-pervasive anti-American conspiracy. Instead of the International Jew, the traditional bogeyman of Nazi demonology, the International Chinaman (Chink, to you lumpen-conservatives) is the locus of evil. Like the Nazis, the Sinophobes are a curious amalgam of Right and Left elements, united in their hatred of a common racial enemy and a common overseas military "threat." As is well-known, German arms manufacturers had a hand in financing Hitler; today, in this country, the pattern repeats itself, with the Southern California-based "defense" contractors, who have a vested financial interest in a new Cold War with China, shoveling money into the Hate China Lobby hand over fist.


The irony of all this brouhaha about Chinese spies running rampant through America's defense laboratories is that it may all be the deliberate creation of the Chinese government. For the Chinese intelligence agent who supposedly betrayed the secret of China's penetration of US nuclear secrets was later found out to be a plant, an agent under the control of the Chinese Ministry of State Security. But why – why would the Chinese deliberately reveal that they had purloined US nuclear secrets? A recent report in the Washington Post relates the theory advanced by Houston Hawkins, a former Defense Intelligence Agency nuclear weapons expert now in charge of intelligence at the Los Alamos lab, who maintains that the Chinese, desperate to stop the brain drain which is depriving China of an enormous pool of scientific talent, deliberately triggered the spy scare in order to make life as uncomfortable as possible for all those Chinese students who stay in the US after graduation. "Are the Chinese sophisticated enough to do this?" asks Hawkins, and his answer is food for thought: "They've been practicing espionage for 2,000 years."


This rings true, as far as my own experience is concerned. In 1994, California passed the infamous Proposition 187, which deprived illegal immigrants of welfare benefits and sent a strong anti-immigration message that resounded from coast to coast. As I became active in the campaign, I came in contact with the various groups that formed the Yes on 187 coalition. In politically correct San Francisco, of course, the pro-187 group was small – but well-organized and quite determined. The leader was a leading local anti-immigration activist who was also active in the U.S.-China People's Friendship Society; he had married a Chinese woman, lived in China for a while, and, in his quiet way, was a loyal supporter of the Chinese government, as near to a Chinese "agent" as one is likely to find outside of a spy novel. During one strategy session luncheon, he candidly stated that the position of the Chinese government was to discourage Chinese immigration to the US, especially students in such fields as engineering and the sciences: after the Chinese government had so generously subsidized their education, these ungrateful sons and daughters would leave the mother country to seek their fortunes in a foreign land. But not if the Chinese government could help it.


What rich irony! Here is the Hate China Lobby doing the bidding of the Chinese government, blissfully unaware of its own subversive mission. One can only marvel at the beauty and subtlety of the Chinese deception, with all its nuance and humor. How they must be laughing at the foolish Americans, who stumble about like blundering giants and are their own worst enemies. Dependent for its success on the weakness, vanity, ignorance, and willful blindness of the West, the Chinese deception is a true work of art.


Tomorrow we will be introducing a new columnist: Joseph R. Stromberg, an adjunct scholar with the Center for Libertarian Studies, who is one of the best writers we have come across in a long time. His column, "The Old Cause," will relate the lessons of history to the situation we find ourselves in today: the glorious history of the American noninterventionist movement, and the inglorious history of America's wars of conquest. I know you will enjoy it, and it is a great coup that Antiwar.com was the first to sign him up and introduce him to a large audience for the first time. His weekly column is going to be one of our highlights, so be sure to check out his debut.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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