Emil Guillermo: This China alarm comes with a disclaimer, but does it matter?
If you’re an Asian American of Chinese descent who loves computers or data science, whether you’re an academic or not, be forewarned.
Once again, the FBI’s Christopher Wray is making news with another dire warning, this time at a Congressional hearing this week.
Wray said point blank that “China’s multi-pronged assault on our national and economic security make it the defining threat of our generation.”
Move over all those who remember Wen Ho Lee; this is a new generation.
No one’s looking for nuclear secrets. It’s that and everything else, high and low. Wray said the threat is focused on critical infrastructure--our water treatment plants, our electrical grid, our oil and natural gas pipelines.
Said Wray: “China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real world harm to American citizens and communities.”
That’s the headline. If you’re Chinese or Asian American, you will be looked on with suspicion---if you haven’t been already.
All nuance is lost in an atmosphere of fear.
The truth may prevail, but only after lengthy legal entanglements, arrests, and court dates.
Let me be blunt. With this constant messaging from the FBI, the likelihood is high that you will be suspected of some act of espionage.
Chinese American academics and scientists already have been subjected to unbearable scrutiny. Just ask Franklin Tao or Sherry Chen, victims of government assumptions, then put through the bureaucratic wringer, only to be found harmless and spit out by the system irreparably harmed.
Tao and Chen are in the shadows of Wen Ho Lee, who in 1999 was “a landmark victim of racism, from the bias he faced at his former workplace as a nuclear scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, to the insensitive coverage of the entire affair by The New York Times that set the tone for more of the same by other mainstream media.”
That was a graph from the one of the many columns I wrote in Asian Week over 20 years ago when Lee was the “modern Asian American race victim of the highest order. His implication as a spy for the Chinese government raised the issue of race profiling to the highest possible levels of political fear: the end of the world.”
“That's no overstatement,” I wrote in one of my columns, still available on the Asian Week database. “When you talk about alleged espionage involving top-secret nuclear warheads, you've just conjured up all the doom and gloom that make otherwise rational people in high places do irrational things”
“Like seeing a Taiwanese American like Lee and thinking he's likely to sell secrets to Beijing.”
“Like arresting that suspect and putting him in solitary confinement for nine months.”
“Like government officials leaking information exclusively to the (New York) Times, with reckless disregard for the suspect's privacy. That, in turn, led to journalistic sins like printing stories that presumed the worst of the suspect, triggering fear throughout the country of Asian Americans because, as we all know, ‘Seen one spy, you've seen them all.’"
“This was pre-9/11 stuff. Before Homeland Security started fearing Muslim terrorists, it was the Chinese spy.”
And now here we are again. Right back where we left off with Wen Ho Lee, a man who ultimately received apologies from the U.S. government and The New York Times.
Have we learned anything from Lee’s case?
Maybe just a little. Emphasis on “little.”
Before Wray went into fear mode this week before Congress,he made prefatory remarks that unfortunately will be edited out of the news clips generated in all media.
But there was a disclaimer, and that disclaimer is the most important thing.
If you missed it, here it is.
“Before I go on,” Wray said, “I do want to make very clear that my comments today are not about the Chinese people, and certainly not about Chinese Americans, who contribute much to our country and are frankly often the victims of Chinese Communist Party aggression themselves.”
How many of you saw that graph in any news accounts of Wray’s statements?
Wray tried to be clear. “When I talked about the threat posed by China,” he said, “I mean the government of China, in particular led by the CCP.”
I’m glad Wray said the disclaimer after yet another blunt China alarm from him.
But this seemed unlike all the others he’s done the last three years or so. Not only is the threat real, but America is outnumbered 50-1 in terms of manpower assets fighting off the hackers. There is a sense of desperation, as if a call for “all hands on deck.”
And that means there’s an implied, “If you see something, say something” message.
In other words, watch out for those Asians.
Oh, but what about the disclaimer?
No one will hear the nice preface about the good “Chinese Americans.”
No one will pay attention to the disclaimer. They’ll only feel the fear. And then act the same way they’ve always acted.
Ask Franklin Tao. Sherry Chen. And Wen Ho Lee.
You’ve been warned.
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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.
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