by Donavan Hall, Ph. D.
Lee's impropriety took place
within the confines of his workplace, a secure area, and did not involve
unsecure computers. When one compares the two cases side by side, it becomes
painfully clear that Deutch's security violations are much worse than Lee's.
So why did Deutch go free and Lee spend nine months in solitary?
Justice For All?
John Deutch and Wen Ho
Last October, the justice
department faced an embarrassing inconsistency. After having held Wen Ho
Lee in solitary confinement for nine months for "improperly downloading
classified information", the justice department found itself facing the
problem of what to do about former CIA Director John Deutch who not only
improperly downloaded classified information, he placed that information
on an unsecure computer at his home.
It is tempting to demand
equal "justice" meaning equal punishment. However, the punishment of Lee
was wrong, most objective observers admit that. Imprisoning Deutch just
because Lee was improperly imprisoned doesn't make things better. Punishing
Deutch in the same way would only double the injustice, not cancel it out.
The difference between Deutch
and Lee is this: there were more political advantages to be gained by embarrassing
the Clinton administration with a Chinese spy scandal that by exposing
the security oversights of a former CIA head. Why? The Republicans wanted
to nail Clinton and Gore for fundraising improprieties during the 1996
election involving China.
One can only suppose that
the Republicans thought they might be able to spin the tale that China
received nuclear secrets for illegal donations to the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Clinton and the justice department had to act quickly and decisively to
counteract this spin. Unfortunately for Dr Lee, he was the ready solution
for the administration's public relations trouble.
Of course, the justice department
was guilty of racial profiling in the Lee case. They were looking for a
Chinese spy and they found one; it did not matter that the scapegoat's
ethnicity was Taiwanese. One is left wondering if all orientals are the
same to overzealous spy chasers. But the true source of the profiling came
from the necessity of finding someone who would look like a Chinese spy
on TV. If the justice department could show that it had found the culprit
and was prosecuting him, then the Republican spin was counter-spun.
Once the public relations
war had cooled, the justice department quietly dropped their flimsy case
with a plea bargain. Thank you, very much, Dr Lee. You've served your purpose
in the Spinocracy, you may go now.
What happened to John Deutch?
In the final hours of the Clinton administration, a number of last minute
Presidential pardons were issued. Amongst those who received exoneration
from their misdeeds was form CIA director John Deutch. Remember Deutch
was accused of mishandling secret information, essentially the same crime
that Dr Wen Ho Lee supposedly committed.
Lee spent nine months in
solitary confinement. Deutch on the other hand never spent a single day
in jail. Prior to his pardon, Deutch attempted to work out a plea bargain
to a misdemeanor charge in hopes to avoid serving a jail sentence. So Deutch
gets off scot free.
What have we learned? The
cynical part of me says that if you are a member of the Washington elite,
a good old boy, then you can get away with anything. If you are an Asian-born
US citizen who works at a government lab in New Mexico, you can't get away
with anything. I try not to be too cynical.
The optimistic part of me
says that while Dr Lee was the subject of some rough handling, he was ultimately
released and enjoys his freedom today (even if his honor has been sullied).
The real lesson to take away from this affair is that the bureaucratic
and legal beast hungers for whatever unsuspecting flesh may stumble into
its maw. If you have the sense to steer clear of its jaws, you'll be fine;
if you work with secret information, you had better have a good lawyer
and friends in high places.
The military's fear that
secret information will be gathered by our enemies and used against us
has led to the unjust persecution of more than one US citizen. Is this
a price we are willing to pay for security? I don't feel any safer knowing
that Dr Lee spent nine months in solitary for improperly handling classified
information. If anything, I feel less safe.
The fear of unjust treatment
at the hands of US officials is more frightening to me than knowing the
Chinese have nuclear weapons. The reason for this is that I have always
suspected the latter, but hoped that the former was impossible in this
"land of the free".
-- Donavan Hall, Ph. D. publisher and editor of http://donavanhall.net
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