The Spies Who Fleeced Us

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, July 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Spies Who Fleeced Us


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


It's always suspicious when Washingtonians start breaking into bad Latin. There may be a quid, you hear them say, and there seems to be a quo. But-aha-there's no smoking pro to connect the two. This pseudo-talk combines my least favorite styles: that of the overpaid attorney and that of the overpaid political obfuscator. Thus, it is not denied that Chinese military-industrial sources managed to transfer an awful lot of money to the Democratic National Committee. Nor is it denied that many tranches of valuable information made their way from American nuclear laboratories into the computer systems of the People's Republic of China. Nor is it denied that large American corporations were eager to share missile and satellite technology with the PRC, and that they, too, were generous to the DNC. All that is denied is that these things have anything to do with one another.

In the current case, however, every one of the Clintonian defenses raises additional suspicions:

* The White House "line of the day" says that Chinese espionage is nothing new and was known to occur under previous, Republican administrations. In that case, they had every reason to be vigilant, when all the evidence shows they were not.

* The President says that he was not told of any espionage until March 19 this year. Not only does this tell against the smug claim of previous awareness of the problem, but it flatly contradicts Sandy Berger's claim to have been briefed by Energy Department intelligence as far back as July 1997 and to have passed on the briefing to Clinton "within a day or two." Not even Lanny Davis has been able to confect an explanation for this discrepancy.

* The Clinton Administration, through legal measures such as the Anti-Terrorism and Intelligence Authorization acts, has been treating the Fourth Amendment as an inconvenience since at least 1996. The chief exhibit in this contempt for the Constitution is the "roving wiretap," whereby any phone to which a suspect is "reasonably proximate" can be invigilated by the FBI. Yet when the FBI asked Justice for permission to tap the phone of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos labs, Janet Reno's amazing subordinates three times turned down the application. We now know that in 1996 her judicial review panel authorized all 839 wiretap warrants that it received.

Now, was there anything else going on, between about 1996 and now, that could make the Administration at all touchy about Chinese penetration? Well, there were the numerous Senate hearings at which it was established-and not denied-that the DNC and the 1996 Clinton/Gore campaign had shredded such distinction as existed between "hard" and "soft" political donations. Going back a bit further, there are intimate connections between the Riady Corporation-a front for Chinese interests-and Clinton's original financial backers in Arkansas. The Worthen Bank, owned by Clinton's longtime backer Jackson Stephens, was the conduit for a large Riady loan in 1992-just in time to save the financially exhausted Clinton campaign. …

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