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Comments by Donavan Hall, Ph. D.
Justice For All?
John Deutch and Wen Ho Lee

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.

Donavan Hall
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? 

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 and "Donavan's News" To subscribe to "Donavan's News", a periodic e-mail about the interplay of culture, politics, science, religion. Send an email to:

Donavan Hall, Ph. D. publisher and editor of and "Donavan's NewsTo subscribe to PHANERON, a weekly e-newsletter about the interplay of culture, politics, science, religion. Send an email to
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