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My Country Versus Me    by Wen Ho Lee order for
My Country Versus Me
by Wen Ho Lee
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Marian Powell

For true horror, forget your favorite genre author and read this book. My Country Versus Me is the autobiographical account (written with the aid of a professional writer) by Wen Ho Lee of how he came to be accused, fired and then imprisoned, based on charges that were never substantiated.

It began when it was announced on the news that a scientist at Los Alamos had been passing secrets to China. Soon Wen Ho Lee's name was revealed and he was fired, later imprisoned, and then eventually released after he pleaded guilty to the charge that he had downloaded information onto his computer. He explains this in detail, including the fact that he safeguarded the information with a triple password system. It is significant that downloading material for convenience was something many scientists at Los Alamos did, so that Wen Ho Lee was no more guilty than many of his colleagues who were not charged.

According to his account, the spy case began with an investigation by the FBI, with which he cooperated fully. He says repeatedly that he deeply regrets having cooperated, but that at first he did not understand how he could possibly be a suspect. He eventually learned that he had been under suspicion for years because he once telephoned another scientist who was under suspicion. The author's opinion, expressed in his book, is that someone decided he was guilty of being a spy for China and then looked for evidence. Once the story broke in the news, he feels that the FBI became desperate to prove him guilty rather than having to admit to a mistake. He also sees great political motivation by certain prominent politicians.

Most of all, Wen Ho Lee sees this as an ugly example of racism. He feels very strongly that if he was singled out because he was Chinese. In the end, he pleaded guilty to bring an end to the persecution. He says 'I do not regret making the tapes ... I know that was a security violation. But I also know that had it not been for all the hysteria from Washington and the spinelessness of bureaucrats who went along with the wild accusations, my downloaded files would never have turned into a criminal case. Had I not been Chinese, I never would have been accused of espionage and threatened with execution ... now I know that political whimsy can destroy the contributions of a life's work, especially if you're an Asian American in a high security position.'

This is a very frightening book, showing how easily someone can become a target. There is much that is touching in Wen Ho Lee's story as his family and friends rallied around and risked everything to help him. One neighbor was even willing to mortgage her home simply because she believed he was innocent. The book itself is filled with precise detail as he covers every step of the case. Clearly he is doing this in order to make his innocence clear but that makes the reading dense and heavy at times. Wen Ho Lee also tells the fascinating story of his impoverished boyhood, how he came to the USA and his love for his family, his friends, his work and for his adopted country. That, of course, makes his persecution all the more ironic.

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