Energy Dept. Finds Racial Profiling
H. JOSEF HEBERT
Jan. 19, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A six-month Energy Department investigation has found evidence of racial profiling and an ``atmosphere of distrust and suspicion'' toward Asian Americans at nuclear weapons labs because of the uproar over alleged Chinese espionage.
But Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, vowing to stamp out such profiling, insisted Wednesday that Taiwan-born scientist Wen Ho Lee was never singled out or fired from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory because of his race.
Nevertheless, Asian-American scientists widely believe they have been unfairly targeted because of their race since Lee's dismissal last March for security violations, according to a task force report on racial profiling in the department.
Lee, at the center of a three-year espionage investigation, was indicted in December for copying top-secret nuclear weapons files and remains in jail, awaiting trial. He has strongly denied giving secrets to China or anyone else.
``While specific incidents and examples of racial profiling may differ from site to site, the general concerns and issues were virtually identical department wide,'' said the report, ordered by Richardson last summer when the uproar over alleged Chinese espionage at weapons labs was at its peak.
Despite directives from Richardson against racial profiling, managers and supervisors at the weapons labs _ Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore _ and other DOE facilities were found to question ``the loyalty and patriotism of some employes based upon racial factors,'' the report said.
Yvonne Lee, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a task force member, said there is ``a general sense of fear'' among Asian-Americans of being unfairly targeted. They cited as an example, she said, a practice by the FBI to call Asian-American scientists simply because of their race ``to see if they knew Lee.''
Tom Tamura, another task force member, said Asian-American scientists related how counterintelligence officials joked about the Chinese connection in briefings to scientists. The briefers would ask the scientists whether they knew why there were so many Chinese restaurants in town. ``Why for spying of course,'' the briefer would say, according to Tamura.
Richardson said no specific case of racial profiling has been proven but ``we're admitting to a problem, a problem of perception, of mistrust.''
To emphasize that such profiling ``is never welcome'' Richardson said there would be a department-wide satellite-linked ``stand-down'' in the coming weeks so employees can focus on the issue and discuss their concerns. Richardson also appointed Jeremy Wu, former deputy director of the Office of Civil Rights, as a department ombudsman on worker issues.
Since Wen Ho Lee's indictment on Dec. 10, a growing number of Asian-American groups have come to Lee's support, creating a defense fund and scheduling rallies. These groups claim Lee was singled out because of his race.
``I reject the view that racial profiling was present in this case,'' Richardson said, referring to the Lee dismissal.
Yvonne Lee, the civil rights commissioner, said she's reserving judgment on the matter. ``None of us can say (at this point) this is racially motivated,'' she said of the Los Alamos spy case.
But she said one thing is certain. ``Asian-American employes are feeling the sting.''
And Richardson said the impact could be long-lasting.
``This perceived hostile work environment imperils an invaluable partnership between the Energy Department and Asian Pacific Americans. Worse...(it) can foment a dangerous `brain drain' where we lose our best scientists, hobbling our research quality, leading edge science and ultimately our national security.''
Already, he added, ``we are not having as much success in recruiting top flight scientists.''