Roger Hu, who has made four trips to mainland China and four trips to Taiwan since he entered MIT as a freshman in 1996, has developed a vocal interest in the issues surrounding the Wen Ho Lee case.
It hasn't been easy for Mr. Hu, a soft-spoken graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who considers himself apolitical.
"It's scary to be considered a political person," he said. "But I've gained the courage to speak out in the last few months."
Mr. Hu, the driving force behind last week's "Spy of the Century?" forum at MIT, has learned to speak out eloquently about Dr. Lee's case.
"A lot of you, both Asian American and non-Asian American, have been asking, 'What should we be doing?'" Mr. Hu told the audience that filled Rm 4-237 Thursday night. "Well, for one thing, we should be outraged about what has happened. More than that, we have to make our voices heard."
Dr. Lee, a Taiwanese-American scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, spent nine months in jail before he was freed by US District Court Judge James Parker last Wednesday after Dr. Lee pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling nuclear secrets. The judge chided the government for pursuing the case against Dr. Lee and offered an apology. As part of the plea bargain, 58 other charges were dropped.
"Even if this case is over in the legal sense, it's a wake-up call," Mr. Hu told the MIT forum. "It's a wake-up call that we as a community need to become involved in the political process. People often think writing to your local representatives is futile. Well, if you think so, write to President Vest, Chancellor Bacow, your professors, anyone who is respected in this community, and ask them to express their opinions publicly... I'm asking all of you to stay aware of what's happening, especially the MIT students here."
Professor Emeritus Martin Deutsch of physics and Professor Hugh Gusterson of anthropology also addressed the audience, which included students from Harvard, Wellesley and Yale, as well as MIT. The event was sponsored by the MIT Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Wen Ho Lee Defense Committee.
After acknowledging that Dr. Lee committed a crime, Professor Gusterson expressed concern over five aspects of the case: racial profiling, the double standard applied to Dr. Lee, misconduct by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the conditions of Dr. Lee's incarceration and the role the New York Times played in driving the story. "Wen Ho Lee was caught in the cross fire of a partisan political battle in Washington," he said.
The forum's coordinator, Mr. Hu, grew up in Los Altos Hills, CA, and was sensitized to Dr. Lee's case by the active Asian-American involvement in the Bay Area. At first his activities were mostly confined to playing a supporting role in events sponsored by Harvard students. His mindset changed last June when two missing hard drives were discovered behind a copying machine at Los Alamos.
"That's when I became convinced he was innocent," he said. "I couldn't sleep all night after reading about it. I felt like I wasn't doing enough." He wrote a letter to a friend and mentor, Richard Chong of San Francisco. "Some of the ideas and phrases I used in my speech (at MIT) were the same ones he used in the letter he wrote back to me," Mr. Hu said.
Mr. Hu concluded his speech with this plea to students in the audience: "Stay alert, join the support group, and most of all, raise some hell about this issue."
What's next? "Work for a presidential pardon and make this an issue when Bush and Gore debate in Boston," said Mr. Hu. The first debate of the presidential campaign is scheduled for October 3 at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2000.