The Los Angeles area woman accused of being a double agent for the Chinese government is being prosecuted to cover up "FBI bungling" and is being singled out for especially harsh treatment because of her race and gender, her family said in a statement yesterday.
The two-page statement, written for distribution to Chinese-language newspapers and translated into English, portrays Katrina Leung as a loyal informant for the FBI who was exploited by two FBI agents who had longtime sexual affairs with her.
Leung, who is jailed on charges of illegally obtaining secret documents for China, regularly contacted agents of the Chinese intelligence service with the full knowledge and blessing of her U.S. overseers, her family said.
In addition, the family said, James J. Smith, her FBI handler who is free on bail on charges of gross negligence, has been given preferential treatment because of his race and FBI contacts.
The statement also alleges that Smith had 20 years' worth, or 47 volumes, of classified debriefings of Leung in his home. In most circumstances, the personal possession of such documents would represent a grave breach of the rules governing sensitive information.
"The FBI is doing what they have done in other cases of FBI bungling. Their people in Washington are orchestrating things to protect their own," the family said. "They blame the non-agent and the foreign-born, especially the Asian, especially the woman. When the FBI is embarrassed, they revert to their old ways. They use a double standard to blame outsiders and protect their own."
The statement, representing the sharpest allegations yet from Leung and her supporters, indicates that Leung will not only profess her innocence but she will make the government's motives in prosecuting her a key element of her defense.
The allegations of FBI bungling seem intended as a reminder of previous espionage scandals, including the case involving Robert P. Hanssen.
Leung's charges of racial discrimination are also reminiscent of those made by former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who alleged that federal prosecutors and intelligence officials wrongly focused on him as a suspect in part because of his race.
Federal prosecutors allege that Leung, 49, who was paid $1.7 million as an FBI informant over 20 years, was a "double agent" who pilfered classified material from Smith, 59, and gave it to the People's Republic of China. The case is complicated by a 20-year sexual affair between Leung and Smith, both of whom are married, court documents show.
A second former FBI Chinese counterintelligence official also had an intermittent affair with Leung that ended in 1999, court documents show. Authorities have identified him as William Cleveland Jr., who resigned his counterintelligence post at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last week after being stripped of his security clearances.
Leung's defense team declined to comment on the contents of her family's statement. Attorneys for Smith could not be reached through telephone calls to their offices yesterday. FBI officials also could not be reached.
The family's statement said the FBI began investigating Leung because it had discovered "embarrassing" details of the "sloppy" conduct of Smith and Cleveland. FBI officials have said the probe began because of growing questions about Leung's reliability.
"Their fellow FBI agents have been released on bail or not charged, but Katrina has been forced to start her long, difficult fight from a jail cell," the statement said. "This is unfair discrimination. . . . When Katrina can present the full story, you will know she has been abused and smeared by the FBI, she is a loyal and patriotic American, and she is innocent of any crimes against America."