US spy concerns: ‘Multi-cultural society & national security can’t mix’
A Chinese-born hydrologist working for the US federal government in Ohio was accused of being a foreign spy. Six FBI agents came to Sherry Chen's office in October 2014 and arrested her over allegations of stealing information about US dams and passing it to a high-ranking Chinese official. She was suspended from her job without pay. Her family in China had to find money to pay for her legal defense. Six months later all the charges were suddenly dropped.
In recent years the US government has been worried about Chinese hackers sending trade secrets and other confidential information out of the United States. Since 2013, when President Obama announced a new strategy to fight back, more than half of the economic espionage indictments have had a China connection.
RT:What does Mrs. Chen's case indicate?
Richard Spencer: The US attitude to China is complicated. I think there is a great deal of ambivalence or what you could say is countervailing forces. In terms of US businesses, the relationship with China is quite good, there is full integration. We probably couldn’t have most of the consumer electronics that we might be using to have this conversation, or at least not have that at the price that we do were it not for these good relations between US businesses, US corporations and China. In terms of the political situation, the US is facing a kind of contradictory situation where the US wants to have an open society particularly with the freedom of movement of peoples. The fact that they had this woman, Sherry Chen, as a former foreign national who was working as a bureaucrat, I think is an expression of that they want to have an open society. At the same time the US wants to have a national security state which is in many ways the legacy of the Cold War.
Peter Zeidenberg, lawyer for Sherry Chen: “What stood out to me in the original indictment that I read is the complete lack of facts; it was just bare allegations and no factual basis to support it.”
Those two things that don’t really mix, you can’t have a multi-cultural…global international society and this very nationally-oriented security apparatus. Those are two contradictory forces. This poor woman who, from what I’ve read, seems to be innocent of any wrongdoing got caught in a mix of this contradictory element within American society.
RT:In May 2014 we've also heard accusations of Beijing being involved in cyber-espionage. Why Washington is so afraid of China? And have these "spy games" started recently or it's been like this for decades?
RS: Washington has been afraid of China for some time. I can remember 15 years ago, it was before 9/11, there was a lot of talk coming from neoconservatives, people like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and so on and so forth, of a new Cold War, and it is going to be with Beijing this time. So there has always been an antagonism between certain elements within Washington and China... Washington views China as a competitor in forming the global order. After the fall of the Soviet Union we had a kind of unipolar world where there was no other power. Russia was in a shambles at that time, there was no other power that challenged Washington consensus. China through their economic power, through their unitary, stating government, unified society in many ways, it is 90 percent Han Chinese; it is, from what I can tell, a patriotic society. That economically powerful and politically powerful entity challenges Washington’s hegemonic dominance. Any country that does that is going to be feared by the US... Sherry Chen is a mundane, normal person who got caught up in the gales of these bigger forces.
Peter Zeidenberg, lawyer for Sherry Chen: “[Sherry Chen] was out of work being unpaid for six months until the case was resolved. Fortunately now she is receiving her pay but she doesn’t have her job back... Right now she is in limbo and desperately wanting to go back to work...Her life has been severely impacted and disrupted.”
RT:All charges against Mrs. Chen were dropped without explanation just a week before she was scheduled to go on trial. How could such a serious charge be dropped that quickly?
RS: In the US there is a great deal of prosecutorial misconduct. To put things simply, if a prosecutor wants to ruin lives - he can. I’m not saying that all prosecutors have malign intentions, but their ability to get indictments, their ability to levy serious charges that even if you’re declared not guilty are going to stick with you for your life. Prosecutors’ ability to do that cannot be underestimated in the US. Prosecutors perhaps have too much power. So it doesn’t surprise me that there was a point when they were levying these huge charges, they were making her into a master spy…and then a week later they would drop it all...
Peter Zeidenberg, lawyer for Sherry Chen: “Ms. Chen is not looking to make a countersuit, she is not looking to punish anyone, and she is not looking to be a vindictive...”
RT:Do you think more ordinary people will suffer from Washington's fear of being spied on?
RS: That might be the case. Despite the fact that Sherry Chen seems innocent, from what I can tell, I would never say that the Chinese do not engage in espionage, I think that’s wrong. The majority of espionage cases ... are engaging in both political espionage - they are interested in secrets and information -and industrial espionage. The US through ECHELON, through some other famous spying programs has engaged in industrial espionage on the Germans.You could say this is misplaced patriotism. What really is – they want to help up their own national countries gain secrets, gain advantages, and then the government will in effect benefit from the tax revenues that come in. A year ago, US officials raised alarms about Israeli, both political and industrial espionage of the US. All of these countries are engaging in this. In some ways it’s to be expected...
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.