View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, April 05, 2004

Investigation Stopped 

The Feds have dropped their investigation of Lee Yu, a Fort Collins man who sent a high-speed camera to a lab in China. Apparently the lab, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology's 14th Research Institute, is not considered a security risk, whereas China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology's 13th Research Institute is. The camera went to the former lab, not the latter, so the sale was legal.

A couple of things stand out as slightly ludicrous. First, this space-filler:

Larry Thompson, a neighbor of Yu's who has known him for five years, said he called Yu last summer to support him, after The Denver Post and other media outlets reported on the investigation.

He said he never thought his neighbor was a "spy."

"I didn't believe any of it," Thompson said. "This is absolute absurdity, that somebody could be treated in this fashion."

Unless Mr. Thompson either works at one of the labs in question, a long commute, to be sure, or he works with Mr. Lee, or he is a trained counterintelligence office, he knows nothing about whether or not Mr. Lee could be a spy. He knows a public face, and I would venture to say that if most spies could be easily identified by their neighbors, their jobs would be just a little bit compromised the moment they stepped off a plane.

Secondly, the sale may well have been legal, which is a fault in our laws and export rules, not in the principle behind them. In what is essentially a fascist state, does anyone really think that there's some sort of iron wall between Lab 13 and Lab 14? Of the same organization? We're talking about a country whose stability rests on the military (for the time being), where all governmental operations are still controlled by the Party, where independent research companies don't exist.

"Mr. Chang, we're here at Lab 13, but Lab 14 has this really cool camera we could use to examine our ballistics tests. Could you run over there and pick it up for us?"

"Well, you know, Lab 14 isn't engaged in military research, so the camera would have been sold to them under false pretenses."

"Mr. Chang, how does breaking rocks in the Great Western Desert sound?"

"You want that before lunch?"

And that's assuming the whole thing wasn't a set-up from the get-go. How hard would it be for Lab 13 to use Lab 14 as a front organization for purchasing all sorts of goodies, ripe for reverse-engineering? Someone, whether it's Mr. Lee, the Feds, the guys who write the export laws, or the guys who decide on policy, is guilty of at least criminal stupidity.

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