September 24, 1999


If Wen Ho Lee were black, the government officials who have made his life miserable for the past three years – who have destroyed his career and his reputation, and impugned the patriotism of a whole class of people – would be vilified by the same crowd wailing about the fate of convicted murderer Mumia Abu Jamal as racists. We would now be hearing Kweisi Mfume and Jesse Jackson inveighing against this outrageous hate crime, one on the same level as the outages of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations. If Lee were black, or even Hispanic, he would have been elevated into a political and cultural icon and made the subject of a PBS documentary by now. Spied on and relentlessly harassed by FBI agents, who tried unsuccessfully to entrap him, Lee has staunchly but quietly maintained his innocence all along – and now it looks as if even his persecutors are admitting that the poor man is innocent.


The Los Angeles Times reports the inside story of a recent meeting between Janet Reno, the White House, and top FBI officials, in which the "mishandling" of the Los Alamos investigation was presented to the Administration, and a new course of action was decided on. One official is quoted as saying "I think they're basically saying 'Perhaps this never happened. It's like a deer caught in the headlights. They don't know whether to go forward or backward." The case against Lee, according to the Times, appears to have "evaporated."


Wen Ho Lee has yet to be charged with any crime – and has yet to become a civil rights hero. This in spite of the fact that the government is now admitting that thousands of people had access to the alleged "stolen secrets" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Supposedly, no one in the government can yet figure out how their "Operation Kindred Spirit," initiated in 1996, came to focus on a single government lab, Los Alamos, and a lone and rather shy Chinese-American scientist from Taiwan.


Yeah – right! Remember, these FBI clowns called their campaign of harassment "Operation Kindred Spirit." It is almost like something out of a fourth-rate espionage thriller, and surely the meaning of this lurid symbolism is not open to much dispute. For the word "kindred" clearly denotes a familial, ethnic solidarity that was supposed to be at the core of Lee's alleged treason. You don't need a hidden microphone to pick up the sentiment at the core of their phony "investigation." In other words, the psychology of the FBI investigators went something like this: "Those goddamn gooks, everyone knows they all stick together, and I don't care if they are American citizens." Can't you just hear it?


The anonymous official cited by the Los Angeles Times was, unfortunately, wrong in assuming that "they don't know whether to go forward or backward." They are going forward, and with a vengeance. Instead of giving it up, dropping the charges against Lee, and going home, the witch-hunters have decided to expand their investigation, and have announced that they will examine more than 500 "potential suspects," as the Los Angeles Times put it. More than 500 potential Wen Ho Lees is more like it.


A nationwide witch-hunt, in which Chinese-Americans are sure to be targeted, is now underway – and we hear not a peep about it from the various "civil rights" organizations, and such champions of the oppressed as the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Civil Rights Commission. The Chinese-American community organizations, perhaps out of a fear of a backlash, have not made much of an issue out of this gross injustice. For years the government has been "considering" filing charges against Lee, and they still maintain that it is possible. In the meantime he is left cruelly dangling, his loyalty and his status in a seemingly endless state of limbo, and the patriotism and loyalty of all Chinese-Americans is similarly put in question. Does anyone deserve to be treated like this – and how have the Clintonians and their Republican allies gotten away with it in the era of political correctness, when ethnic discrimination (either real or imagined) is severely punished by the courts of law and public opinion?


The source of this liberal indifference to an outrageous case of official persecution and shameless racism is that Chinese-Americans do not fit into any of the common victimological categories. If Wen Ho Lee were Lester B. Brown, unjustly accused of handing over nuclear secrets to, say, South Africa, the silence would not be quite so deafening. But why? Clearly, the Chinese – and all Asian Americans – do not measure up to the strict victimological standards maintained by the enforcers of political correctness. Their income is well over the national average, and their children outperform virtually all others academically, particularly in the realm of math and science. While Asian liberals and their leftist confreres like to denigrate the idea of Asian Americans as "the model minority," and aver that this is really an insult, in reality it is clearly a high compliment, and one that has been hard-earned. Instead of demanding quotas, sympathy, and official recognition as an official victim group, Asian Americans have taken a more traditionally American road to economic and personal fulfillment: they have excelled. Instead of maintaining their cultural isolation, all the better to define themselves as "oppressed," Asian immigrants and especially Chinese Americans have assimilated effortlessly and with relative rapidity into the American scene. Since human achievement is more commonly resented than admired, especially in our rotten culture, they are routinely snubbed and generally disliked by other minorities, and largely ignored when it comes to any discussion of racial or ethnic prejudice in this country.


Politically, this anti-Chinese resentment translates into a coalition between two groups: the labor unions – who have always loathed the Chinese for their rigorous and highly competitive work ethic – and from the right wing of the War Party, centered in the Hate China Lobby and fueled by the ongoing witch-hunt. This is the kind of sentiment that the new investigations are designed to play to, with politicians of both parties shamelessly selling their souls to curry favor with the warmongering unions and the Hollywood liberals crying cinematic tears for Tibet. A more sickening display of hypocrisy and cynical manipulation would be hard to imagine.


Against the backdrop of ever-worsening US-China relations, and the looming threat of a major Taiwan crisis, the launching of a new investigation into completely unproved allegations of Chinese espionage does not bode well for the future of Chinese-Americans – or for the peace of the world. How many more Wen Ho Lees will it take before the politicians get off their bandwagon and confront the essential fact of the case? What is almost never discussed is that the documents handed over to US government officials that supposedly indicate a massive espionage operation maintained by the Chinese government were handed over by an unnamed individual who was later shown to be an agent of Beijing. This fact is being kept alive due almost solely to the efforts of the Los Angeles Times, Jude Wanniski, and former congressman Jack Kemp, whose office released a comprehensive report on the subject, the Prather Report, which showed that little if anything was stolen – and that US persecution of other Chinese-American scientists did not begin with Wen Ho Lee.


But, wait a minute – why would the Chinese government plant an agent who would then hand over phony documents purporting to implicate his employers in espionage against the US? It doesn't make sense – or does it?


Looked at in the context of the internal struggle within China, the actions of this agent make perfect sense. The struggle within the Chinese Communist Party, between orthodox Marxist hardliners and pro-market Dengists aligned with radical reformers, continues to escalate – and this curious "spy" incident may be a key battle in the war between the Chinese factions.


The reformers favor an opening to the West , but they have been put on the defensive by the steady worsening of US-China relations. On the other hand, the defenders of orthodoxy are the inheritors of the radical xenophobia that animated the infamous Boxer Rebellion and the hatred of all things foreign prevalent during the Cultural Revolution. They are now on the ascendant, in large part due to the increasingly overbearing arrogance of the US, especially its stance in regard to Taiwan. Think of it this way: What if China, at the height of the American civil war, had suddenly intervened, sending aid, sailing its fleet across the Pacific and securing California for the separatist Confederacy? The impression made on the average Chinese by US aid to Taiwan, and the interposition of the American fleet in the Straits, is similar.


Manipulating this resentment is the most powerful political weapon in the Chinese hardliners' arsenal, and they are using it to great effect as the Republican China-bashers, this time in concert with Janet Reno and the Clinton administration, launch an investigation that will – they hope – turn into a show trial. Wen Ho Lee is the fish that got away, but now they are casting a wider net, hoping to haul in a fresh load of scapegoats to fuel their deeply cynical and dangerous Hate China campaign. Who benefits? The War Party in this country, especially its Republican wing, reaps a political and financial windfall. It means they can keep their followers and true believers in a constant lather over alleged "treason" and "Chicom spies" and write endless screeds about the Dark Secret at the heart of "China-gate." This is especially good for fundraisers headlined "Red Chinese Spies in the Clinton White House" in lurid scarlet letters.

But whose interests were most served when that mysterious agent of Beijing walked in out of the cold and delivered the documentary "evidence" of Chinese espionage to American officials? The biggest beneficiaries of this rapid worsening of relations are not in this country, but in China, specifically in the orthodox wing of the Chinese Communist Party, and particularly its military and intelligence sectors – a crowd our unnamed Chinese defector, later unmasked as a double-agent, was undoubtedly acquainted with. Now as the hardliners gain the upper hand in Beijing, and the next generation of leaders is prepared to assume the mandate of Heaven, war clouds gather on the Asian horizon. Meanwhile, in the US, the call to defend Taiwanese separatists as we defended the Kosovars grows louder, and on the right this is naturally this is all done in the name of "anti-Communism" – as the heirs of Mao look on approvingly, and use the backlash in their own country to smash the reformers and consolidate their own power.


The case of Wen Ho Lee, and the unending government probe into apparently baseless allegations that he is a kind of orientalized Julius Rosenberg is intimately bound up with the politics of interventionism, and the division of labor between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to policing the world. The Democrats have staked out their claim to the "humanitarian" interventions in out-of-the-way and lefty-trendy places like East Timor, Bosnia, and Kosovo, while shying away from areas bordering both the former Soviet Union and China. The Republicans' preferred theater of operations is in precisely those areas neglected by the Democrats: China, at least as far as the ostensible "conservatives" are concerned, and the oil-rich Caucasus region bordering the Caspian sea, on while the Bushian-moderate-internationalists are intensely focused. Between the two parties, there isn't a single inch of the earth's surface that does not need to be defended by American troops and succored by Americans' tax dollars. It is a convenient arrangement for both parties. This way, the American people never get to vote on the foreign policy initiatives of their leaders: by controlling both major parties, and increasingly regulating the conduct of political campaigns and limiting political speech via phony "campaign reform," both parties are absorbed into a single party: The American War Party. Now, aren't you glad we live in a democracy?

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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 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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