As the top security official at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's computing center, Bing Young thinks Wen Ho Lee's downloading of highly classified nuclear weapons data was serious, stupid and probably criminal.
But Young is still contributing money to a legal defense fund that has been established for the former physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory because, Young said, he does not believe Lee should be held without bail in an Albuquerque jail awaiting trial, having already surrendered his passport and shown no inclination to flee.
"I don't understand the bail aspects of it," Young said. "I'm focusing on Wen Ho Lee."
Young and other Chinese American scientists working here at Lawrence Livermore and a branch of Sandia National Laboratory across the street find it hard to conceal their anger about the latest turn of events in a national furor over suspected Chinese espionage--an uproar that has, they believe, called their loyalty as Americans into question.
"Wen Ho Lee came to this country to find the American Dream," said Joel Wong, a Livermore industrial hygienist with a top secret nuclear "Q" clearance. "What he found was the American nightmare."
Added Wen L. Hsu, a systems analyst at Sandia: "You look at the whole process. Wen Ho Lee was tried already in the media. . . . Many Asian Americans [at the labs] look at this and say, 'What does this all mean to myself?' "
Lee, 59, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was fired from his job at Los Alamos in March for violating security regulations. Authorities publicly identified him as the government's prime suspect in a Chinese espionage probe at the New Mexico weapons design lab.
U.S. officials subsequently acknowledged they lacked hard evidence that Lee was a spy for China and conceded that they prematurely focused on him as their prime suspect. Two officials involved in the espionage probe publicly said Lee was unfairly targeted as a suspect on the basis of ethnicity.
Nonetheless, just over a week ago, the government indicted Lee on 59 felony counts, threatened him with life imprisonment for violating the Atomic Energy Act and held him without bail.
For Chinese Americans, a pernicious aspect of the government's focus on Chinese espionage involves China's known penchant for obsessively targeting individuals of Chinese descent as intelligence sources.
While FBI officials say China's track record of recruiting Chinese Americans is dismal, leaders of the Chinese American community say it isn't hard for many Chinese Americans to feel as though their bosses are looking at them with increased suspicion.
Chinese American scientists interviewed here say they have not personally experienced discrimination at Livermore or Sandia. But heightened concern over Chinese espionage and an array of new security measures, they said, have made Chinese Americans feel far less at ease working at the labs.
Hsu used to work on a nonproliferation exchange program that sent U.S. scientists to China's weapons labs and brought Chinese scientists here for visits to Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia. But the program is dead, and now Hsu now worries about the continuing exodus of Chinese American scientists from the labs--and an inability by the labs to recruit other Chinese Americans in the future.
"You go to Silicon Valley and just walk around the street," he said. "More than half of [the scientists] are Asians. Can this country afford to [lose] that segment from the labs?"
As for Lee, Wong calls him a scapegoat for the FBI's inability to find a Chinese spy. "I don't know whether the guy is innocent or guilty," he said. "But let the punishment fit the crime."