Wen Ho Lees Daughter Speaks Out
Alberta Lee remembered driving 35 mph on a 55 mph highway just to make sure that the cars behind her were actually following her -- that it wasnt her imagination. Ever since news of an FBI probe had surfaced in March, she said, she has suspected that she and her father, have been watched -- even followed into stores.
Lee said the FBI still sends up to six cars to maintain surveillance on her father, Wen Ho Lee, when he goes fishing -- something he started doing regularly after his dismissal from the Energy Department in March.
Have you seen that movie Enemy of the State? she said, referring to a 1998 film in which the U.S. government brings to bear all its intelligence resources to hunt down a witness to a crime.
Speaking from her home in Chapel Hill, N.C., the daughter of Wen Ho Lee said the FBI had subpoenaed herself, her relatives and her friends while investigating suspicions that her father, an American, had sent U.S. nuclear secrets to the Peoples Republic of China.
Yet even though three years of investigations have produced no charges, Alberta Lee said her family remains under surveillance.
I wouldnt be surprised if this phone is tapped, she said. You cant imagine how paranoid Ive become. Were sure [the FBI] checks our mail in Los Alamos.
On top of that, said the 25-year-old software worker, her family had to face throngs of intrusive reporters who would knock on the door of her parents Los Alamos home, tap on their kitchen windows and sneak into their backyard to get to the back door.
But the medias portrayal of her father, which she said prematurely and unfairly presented him as a spy for the Chinese government, was the most hurtful. The pain and injustice of the past several months, she said, have been like a really long, slow death. Its very bizarre and surreal.
Lee added that the experience has taught her a hard lesson on how much the government controls the mainstream media.
Im never going to feel the same way about this country again, she said, explaining that she had never thought Asian Americans could be treated the way her family has. Its been really hard.
Well before the news broke in March, Lee detected ominous stirrings from the Energy Department that led her to believe controversy would soon hit her father. In December, he told her that government investigators had contacted him in connection with an espionage investigation. But knowing that he had nothing to hide, her father cooperated fully, she said.
I tried to persuade my dad to get a lawyer, Lee said. He didnt think anything was going to happen. He thought I was being melodramatic. They were absolutely shocked when the news first came out. I was angry because I thought I could have prevented it.
The barrage of media intrusions and a whole slew of misrepresentations has taken a heavy emotional toll on her family, although they are making a strong effort at staying positive, she said.
After losing his job, Lee said, her normally busy father has taken to fishing, gardening, reading books and listening to music to keep busy. His daughter is reluctant to contact her friends and acquaintances for fear of drawing the FBIs attention to them, too.
Thankfully, she said, Asian Americans have rallied to support her father and family. While the mainstream took news articles of suspicion surrounding her father as confirmed facts, she said many Asian American scientists were among the first skeptics.
In April, an influential Chinese American organization, the Committee of 100, met with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to express their concerns about the case. Many more people wanted to reach out to the Lee family, she said, but just did not know how.
In Los Alamos, a small community of scientists who sometimes give piano lessons to each others children, the sentiments have been supportive as well, Lee said.
Recently, supporters for Wen Ho Lee established a legal defense fund, said Lee. Since March, the Lee family has employed three law firms, 10 lawyers, and accumulated over $500,000 in legal fees.
The events since March have also been hard on the extended family who had always looked to the physicist for leadership. My father was the rock. Everyones been devastated by this.
But paradoxically, Lee is not sure where she, her family and Asian Americans in general stand in the United States -- a country to which Asian Americans pledge allegiance but feel has treated them like perpetual foreigners.
This treatment of my father has devastated me because of what I was raised to believe in that is America.