September 13, 2000


The complete collapse of Janet Reno's case against Chinese-American nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee is a story of politics, bureaucratic arrogance, and one incontrovertible fact: the vindictive stupidity of our government is virtually without limit. In the end, the case that government prosecutors – and Republican politicians – had touted as the single most important spy trial since the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the 1950s, turned out to be a hot-air balloon that burst almost as quickly as it was launched. What is clear enough – if you review the many articles I have written on this subject – is that Reno and her attack dogs never had much of a case to begin with. They never even charged Lee with espionage, because of the sheer lack of evidence, and, in the end, wound up dropping 58 of the 59 felony counts in their indictment. Why, then, did they pursue the case – long after it was obvious that they were going to either back down or lose?


The answer can be summed up in one word: politics. It didn't matter that there was virtually no evidence: it didn't matter that the "secrets" Dr. Lee was charged with passing to China were known to thousands of others, nor that these alleged "secrets" were of very questionable value to the Chinese government. What mattered was that the Republicans were on the warpath about lax security procedures at our nuclear weapons laboratories, and, with the release of the Cox Report, were intent on making political hay. What mattered was that the Clintonians had been caught with their pants down around their ankles, with Johnnie Chung exposing the lurid picture of an administration for sale to the highest bidder before a congressional investigating committee. The only way to beat them was to . . . join them.


Now the government is trying to cover its tracks in a bumbling effort that is almost embarrassing. According to the New York Times [12 September 2000], in an article which purports to reveal "how the case was viewed from inside the government as it evolved over the last several months," we are supposed to believe that the unwinnable nature of this case was only recently discovered by Reno's Justice Department. The piece cites anonymous officials who "said that the turning point that led them to agree to the plea bargain was the realization that they would never fully know Mr. Lee's motives in downloading the information." If alarm bells aren't going off by now, causing your B*ll*h*t barometer to go ballistic, then you had better check your wiring. . . .


How, in the name of all that is holy, can anyone know anything for certain about anybody's motivations? Justice Department prosecutors, unless they claim to be mind-readers, can never have access to this kind of information – it is unknowable. But such is their contempt for the intelligence of the general population – and their all-around brazenness – that they do not even bother themselves with this seeming anomaly, but merely go on to confess their complete indifference to the whole concept of objective proof. The Times continues:

"Some investigators had worked on the theory that he might have been aiding China, where he had visited and where he had made contacts with scientists. Others argued that because he was a native of Taiwan, he might have been helping that government."


Huh? So the government couldn't even get the identity of the enemy straight! While the whole area of Chinese penetration of our defense establishment had been raised by the sudden escalation of technological developments on the Chinese mainland, at least some of Reno's Keystone Kops were prepared to abandon the whole basis of the case and pursue a new – and politically more palatable – angle. I hasten to add that both angles have zero basis in fact – other than being tangentially related to Dr. Lee's ethnicity. He was born on Taiwan, and traveled to the mainland under US government auspices when he was employed at Los Alamos – and this fact, alone, nominated him as the ideal candidate for the perfect scapegoat.


The case against Lee really came undone when a senior FBI agent assigned to the case confessed in open court that he had lied about alleged comments Lee had made to a colleague regarding his motives for downloading the "secret" files. With that admission, the whole pattern of government fabrications and tenuous connections began to fall apart. Incredibly, Reno and her minions had insisted that Dr. Lee was such a danger to national security that he needed to be jailed – in solitary confinement – prior to and during the course of his trial. This, too, was a political move, designed to keep him from making his case in the court of public opinion – where, it turns out, he has been winning. Indeed, government officials concede that, as the Times reports, the legal setbacks suffered by the Justice Department were of equal importance to the fact that "public opinion about the case had begun to shift toward Mr. Lee." As more detailed information about this dubious case came out – for example, did you know that Sylvia Lee, Wen Ho Lee's wife, worked for the CIA during the years he is accused of spying? – not even the dumbed-down American public was willing to accept such a transparent hoax.


This administration, which has spent the last few years bemoaning "the politics of personal destruction," had no compunctions about destroying Wen Ho Lee's life, his work, and his family. They had no qualms about setting up a man they doubtless knew was innocent of the charges, and sacrificing him on the altar of political expediency: nor did they hesitate to lie to the American public, when the truth began to come out, and try to cover their tracks. CBS News revealed that, in spite of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's assertion on 60 Minutes that Lee had failed two lie detector tests, the accused scientist had in fact passed the tests. CBS found that "Lee did so well on his polygraph that lab management apologized to him and approved his return to the lab's top secret X-Division. The field office sent a memo saying Lee was not their man, but back in Washington, there was extraordinary pressure on the FBI and the Energy Department to catch a spy." The CBS report also revealed that "weeks after Lee got passing scores on his lie detector test, the FBI stepped in and reversed the findings. Sources say that stunned the three experienced polygraphers on the case. All three had concluded that Lee was truthful in his responses." Secretary Richardson, like other members of the Clinton administration, seems unacquainted with the concept of truth. The truth is whatever these people say it is, and it changes from one moment to the next – "it depends," as one of them once put it, "on what you mean by 'is' . . ."


The government lied from the get-go, apparently in full confidence that they would get away with it. After all, with most of the media in their pocket, they had gotten away with so much already. And they might have gotten away with it, if not for the efforts of Alberta Lee, Dr. Lee's daughter, who worked tirelessly to expose the phony charges, and, together with a growing network of supporters succeeded in reversing to a large extent the initial public impression of her father's guilt. The tide of public opinion began to turn. Jack Kemp, Dr. Gordon Prather, a nuclear weapons expert, and Jude Wanniski spoke out against the witch-hunt, and even conservative Republicans such as Rep. Chris Cox began to call this show trial into question. When the government tried to deny Dr. Lee bail, and argued that he must be kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles during one or two hours of exercise a week, as he had been since his arrest last December, newspaper editorialists around the country began to ask inconvenient questions. The Chicago Tribune wanted to know: "Is Lee guilty until proven innocent?" A San Francisco Chronicle editorial argued that the government's case against Dr. Lee had little to do with the facts and everything to do with developments on the foreign policy front: "The rush to judgment almost always proceeds faster when the nation feels threatened by a foreign enemy."


It is gratifying to see, for once, that the good guys have won. Isn't that a refreshing development? followed this case, and we posted everything we could find to shed light on the railroading of this shy and much-demonized scientist: I wrote about it often, and publicized the defense committee's rallies and news releases. The complete discrediting of the government's case, not only in a court of law but in the court of public opinion, is a victory for all of us. It shows that justice is possible, that exposure works on our duplicitous government the way a strong disinfectant works on germs: it shows that truth matters, that we can win – and we needed to know that.


On October 6-7, the 11th annual meeting of the legendary John Randolph Club – an association of the most politically incorrect conservative writers, editors, publicists, and hangers-on – will be held in Chicago. I'll be speaking on the 7th, and if that isn't enough to get you to attend then perhaps this will: here is your chance to meet and mingle with the stars of the Isolationist Right, not only Chronicles editor Tom Fleming, but also Stephen Presser, radio commentator and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Tom Roeser, novelist and author of America First! Bill Kauffman, and Old West scholar and TV star Roger McGrath. A completely rested and ready-to-rumble Pat Buchanan will also be there, I am told, and if I weren't speaking this alone would be incentive enough to show up.

Full registration for non-JRC members (i.e. practically everyone in the world) is a bargain at $225. For VISA/MC registrations, call (815) 964-5053. For snail mail: make checks payable to the John Randolph Club and mail with your name and address to JRC, The Rockford Institute, 928 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103.

Special room rates at the posh Chicago Athletic Association are $150 per night until September 13. For room reservations, call 312-236-7500 and mention the John Randolph Club to get your discount.

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Past Columns

The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cargagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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 U.S. 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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