My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy
5 journalers for this copy...
The book makes a strong case for the abolition of racial profiling as a law enforcement tool, and also brings back memories of the Japanese internment during World War II.
It's particularly troubling that so many high government officials were way too quick to jump on the bandwagon without knowing any of the facts at all.
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Putting this into CD-only audiobookbox.
Enjoy! Starting the journey of round 4 of my CD only bookbox. Trust this book finds a new listener.
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Book description from Amazon.com:
Wen Ho Lee, a patriotic American scientist born in Taiwan, had devoted almost his entire life to science and to helping improve U.S. defense capabilities. He loved his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory and spent his leisure time fishing, cooking, gardening, and with his family. Then, suddenly, everything changed and he found himself in the spotlight, accused of espionage by members of Congress and the national media and portrayed as the most dangerous traitor since the Rosenbergs. He was even told that their fate - execution - might well be his own. Although Dr. Lee was horrified by these words, he knew he was innocent and believed that this was all a big mistake that would be cleared up quickly. But in December 1999, his worst fears were confirmed when he was manacled, shackled, brought to jail, and put in a tiny, solitary-confinement cell, where he would remain for the next nine months. His arrest sparked controversy throughout the country; it triggered concern for national security, debate about racial profiling and media distortion, and outrage over a return to McCarthy-era paranoia. Throughout the ordeal, Dr. Lee steadfastly maintained his innocence. Now, at last, he is free to tell his story. In this compelling narrative, Dr. Lee chronicles his experience before, during, and after his imprisonment. He takes readers inside Los Alamos and discusses how violations of national security occur in many government agencies. He describes how the FBI infiltrated his private life - lying to him and spying on him for nearly two decades. He relates his own anti-Communist stance, the result of tragic events from his past, and tells how he assisted the FBI to help protect nuclear secrets. He explains the role that the New York Times and unsourced "leaks" played in the country's rush to judgment. He details his harsh treatment in jail and how citizens can be incarcerated solely on government allegations and without factual justification. Finally, Dr. Lee accounts for why he downloaded codes, demonstrating once and for all that he is innocent of every charge leveled against him except for one, a security violation that many others had committed. A riveting story about prejudice, fear, suspicion - and courage - My Country Versus Me offers a revelatory first-hand account of one of the major abuses of our government's power in our time.
Wen Ho Lee, an American citizen born in Taiwan, is a nuclear scientist working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. His job is to design computer codes and simulate nuclear explosions in order to improve the safety of American defense weapons. When he isn’t at work, he enjoys fishing and spending time with his wife and children. He considers himself a true American, and works hard to do his job well. He is completely shocked when he finds out that he is under investigation by the FBI for espionage; within a short period of time, he is accused by members of Congress and media around the world of being a traitor to his country. Lee knows he is innocent, but every time he tries to explain his so-called suspicious actions – his co-workers do the same things, yet none of them are being investigated – or explain a misunderstanding, he seems to dig himself deeper into trouble. Finally, he is arrested, placed in chains, and thrown into solitary confinement – all without a trial. For the next nine months, he is kept in jail in terrible circumstances, because the government (specifically, high-ranking members of the Executive Branch) insists that he’s too dangerous unless confined. His tale is of an extraordinary injustice against an innocent man, a Taiwanese scientist who became the scapegoat of the government’s fears that China was stealing secrets from the US nuclear program.
I was vaguely aware of Wen Ho Lee’s story prior to listening to this audio book. I wasn’t paying that much attention to his case when I was in 8th or 9th grade, but I remember that my Chinese-American family was interested in it. Wen Ho Lee’s situation is also addressed in the play Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang, which I saw back in 2009. But this was the first time that I’d really learned the details about his arrest, and the (lack of) a case against him. Lee maintains throughout the book his belief that race played a huge factor in why he was targeted by the government, and it’s hard to disagree. The fact that some of the things he got in trouble for were not uncommon practices amongst his colleagues, and none of them were ever charged or punished, is disturbing. There’s also the simple matter than Wen Ho Lee was Taiwanese, and they accuse him of spying for China. They’re separate countries – two countries that don’t get along particularly well, at that. The belief that Lee was targeted because of his race galvanized a lot of pan-ethnic Asian-American groups into political action, generating the largest response (if I were to guess) since the Vincent Chin murder nearly two decades before.
But even if race hadn’t been a factor, Wen Ho Lee was treated horribly. In the early stages of the investigation, he was lied to by FBI agents. They would tell him he wasn’t a suspect, or that he could help them catch the real villains if he helped them with codes, but the whole time he was their primary target. His name, and the names of his family, was leaked to the news media while he was under investigation, so that even before he’d been arrested accusations of his spying for China had been printed in major newspapers around the country. He lost his job, and such a thorough media blitz ensured that he would not get hired again. Yet, those responsible for the “leaks” were never disciplined for these gross privacy violations. When he was arrested pre-trial and forced into solitary confinement, he was kept in a freezing cell, but despite his obvious discomfort his jailors failed to mention that he could buy extra blankets or clothing. It all seemed so unnecessary!
Now, it is fair to say that Wen Ho Lee made some significant mistakes. For example, he had made copies of back-up tapes of research he’d done at Los Alamos and kept them in a safe at his home. As he explains in My Country Versus Me, his intent was not to secretly hide the tapes so that he could pass the information on to China. He was making back-ups, as many people do, and he didn’t feel safe leaving the copies on his work computer because on previous occasions he had lost significant research when the Lab upgraded or changed their systems. Was this a smart decision? Probably not, but at the time the information was not classified as “secret” so it wasn’t against the law. Early in the investigation, Lee didn’t understand some of the finer points of the questions – although his English is fine, it is his second language and isn’t perfect – and so his answers weren’t completely accurate. But the punishment he suffered while still considered innocent under the law is inexcusable and unjustified.
The audiobook is read by Fred Stella, and he does a fantastic job. He doesn’t try to fake his way through a Chinese accent, but he reads with the stiff, careful manner of someone who isn’t speaking their native tongue. His performance brings Wen Ho Lee’s story to life very effectively; I think I got more out of the book this way than I would have if I’d read it off of a page.
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