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Another Sorry Excuse for FBI's Own Failures

Wen Ho Lee's case can't be blamed for making the bureau gunshy.

June 06, 2002|ALBERTA LEE | Alberta Lee is a writer and speaker in San Francisco.

The FBI blew it in its failure to heed warnings that could have alerted investigators to the terrorist hijackers of Sept. 11. Now, in what seems to be an attempt to distract attention from bureau incompetence, there have been suggestions that the case of my father, Wen Ho Lee, made the bureau gunshy about pursuing Zacarias Moussaoui.

Apparently, the distortions and lies about my father and his case will never cease.

After my father was held in solitary confinement for nine months, 58 of 59 charges against him were dropped. He pleaded guilty to one count: downloading restricted data, nearly all of which later testimony showed could be found in libraries or on the Internet. On the day my father was released from prison, U.S. District Judge James A. Parker apologized to him for the "demeaning and unnecessarily punitive conditions" in which he was held. Parker explained that he had been "led astray" by the Justice Department, the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office.

Still, the FBI has been effectively spinning the bungling of their case against my father. By using terminology that suggests clumsiness or ineptitude on their own part, my father is portrayed as the spy who got away. My family endured intense scrutiny and endless interviews by official investigators. The political pressure on rank-and-file FBI agents led to the lies that were told to Parker so he would deny bail and keep my father in prison.

Eventually, top U.S. nuclear scientists came to my father's defense, arguing that the government's case was bogus. The National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine intervened on his behalf--an unheard-of effort by these prestigious organizations. The case against my father fell apart not because of incompetence or ineptitude, but because he was not a spy.

In the last few days, commentators including William Safire have made the far-fetched claim that because of the selective prosecution and racial profiling defenses made on behalf of my father, who is Chinese American, the FBI was intimidated about pursuing Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent who is the alleged 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.

To his credit, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has acknowledged that the bureau did not aggressively pursue red flags in Minnesota and Arizona that could have led investigators to the terrorist hijackers.

News reports of the numerous investigative memos that led to suspicions of terrorist plots suggest that there was good reason for further inquiry and questioning of Moussaoui.

In my father's case, however, Robert Vrooman, the former chief counterintelligence officer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Charles E. Washington, the former acting director of counterintelligence at the Energy Department, both gave sworn statements declaring their belief that ethnicity played a large factor in the government's scapegoating of him.

Invidious racial profiling occurs when a person is singled out solely on the basis of race or ethnicity. That's harmful; that's discriminatory. Barring racial profiling is not a matter of being politically correct. It's a matter of preventing racism.

My father was singled out because of his ethnicity, and that was shameful. He was vindicated because he was not a spy. Officials and commentators should acknowledge the malevolence that was demonstrated toward my father and stop using his case as an excuse for Sept. 11 blunders.

If there is a connection to be made, maybe it is this: The FBI wasted millions of dollars and man-hours investigating my father. Meanwhile, the real enemies succeeded.

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