Energy Secretary Bill Richardson yesterday named an Asian American ombudsman to field employee complaints about racial and ethnic discrimination in the wake of the government's Chinese espionage probe at Los Alamos National Laboratory, acknowledging that heightened security measures have triggered a brain drain at nuclear weapons labs.
"Look, we're admitting a problem, a problem caused by this incident," Richardson said, summoning reporters and top managers to a news conference to release the findings of a task force he appointed last year to study the issue of racial profiling.
Richardson said Jeremy S. Wu, a deputy director in the Department of Agriculture's Office of Civil Rights, would fill an ombudsman's position recommended by the task force. Richardson said he urged Wu to act like "a junkyard dog" in pursuing reported incidents of discrimination.
"I wanted an Asian American. We have problems with our Asian American employees," Richardson said, explaining that Asian Americans have felt "targeted" ever since former Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee was identified by U.S. officials as an espionage suspect last March, triggering a furor over suspected Chinese espionage.
Lee, 60, a U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was fired from his job at Los Alamos in March for security violations and was indicted in December for transferring highly classified nuclear weapons data to unsecure computer tapes, seven of which are missing.
Richardson said he is ordering a department-wide "stand-down" in the weeks ahead to consider diversity issues and has authorized a new policy for recruiting foreign scientists to the national labs to ensure the labs remain at the cutting edge of technology.
Asked whether Lee was targeted as an espionage suspect on the basis of race, Richardson said no. Tom Tamura, an Asian American Energy Department official and member of the task force, was more emphatic: "Absolutely not," he said.
But Wu, the department's new ombudsman, wasn't so sure, telling a reporter, "I would say I do not know at this point."
NEVER MIND: Nearly 17 years after former CIA officer and arms merchant Edwin P. Wilson was convicted of smuggling 20 tons of high explosives to Libya, the Justice Department conceded in a motion filed last week that a critical government affidavit used to convict Wilson was inaccurate.
But Justice argued that Wilson is not entitled to a new trial in U.S. District Court in Houston, where he is seeking to have his 1983 conviction overturned on grounds of government misconduct.
In the affidavit, re-read to the jury an hour before it convicted Wilson, then-CIA Executive Director Charles A. Briggs stated that Wilson was never asked by the agency to provide any intelligence services after he retired in 1971, undercutting his defense that his Libyan connections provided cover for CIA operations in which he was involved.
But it turns out Briggs was wrong. "With the benefit of retrospection and in light of all the information now known to the department, it appears that the [Briggs] statement was inaccurate," the government said in its motion. "CIA records--many of which the prosecution did not acquire until the conclusion of the trial--show that, following Wilson's termination as a CIA employee, he was asked to perform or did perform what can be described as services on its behalf."
Wilson's court-appointed attorney, David Adler, himself a former CIA operations officer, called the motion a victory for his client and said it is not insignificant "to have the government admit, 'Yes, we lied to the jury that convicted this man.' "
Vernon Loeb's e-mail address is email@example.com.