Race and spies

June 06, 1999|By Paul Delaney

WHY IS it that I am not at all distressed about Chinese spies among us and the "theft" of our nuclear "secrets?"

I have scoured the black community -- not scientifically, of course -- and I have yet to find anyone shaking in their boots over the Cox Commission report.

The general attitude seems to be: 1) more power to the Chinese, 2)that's what spies are supposed to do, 3) perhaps they should be commended because their spooks are better at their game than ours seem to be.

And then there is the -- yep -- race angle. The people who seem most upset are whites, especially white men. But the spy establishment is overwhelmingly a white male thing.

For the most part, African-Americans have been kept out of the spy business, same as in most industries. So we have not been in the position to become major spies such as Aldrich Ames and Jonathan Pollard.

In addition, current protests about Chinese spies stealing nuclear secrets are overblown at the least and involve a whole lot of political posturing. Most of the protestations are from Republicans, many from the crowd that failed to nail President Clinton during the impeachment fiasco. They've been bloodied enough to not even think about turning the affair over to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, which would have happened a year ago. Or to call for another independent counsel to investigate the matter, which they still may do.

Reaction to the spy case by some in the media and the public has bordered on hysteria, from headlines that accused China of being a "Nuclear Pickpocket" to skirting the "yellow peril" stereotype of old -- the kind of racist-tinged scare tactics that cause many Americans to feel vulnerable and threatened.

One headline in the Washington Post screamed, "Stop the Spies." The article, by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, a California Democrat, actually recognized the fluidity of "the ever-evolving high-technology tools of espionage."

The increasing ability of hackers to get into highly classified computer systems of intelligence agencies, possibly with no other intent than to create havoc or to show how smart they are and that it can be done, should be an indication of exactly what smart and dedicated professional spies can do fairly easily.

Americans spies do it, too, of course. But, we're not suppose to admit that. It is embarrassing, or worse, when a Pollard spies for a friendly ally (Israel), or John Walker (the Navy turncoat) does it for the enemy (the former Soviet Union during the Cold War).

But it is a game that most nations play. Like the Cuban baseball team defeating the Orioles, sometimes the other teams outperform our guys. In the spook game, America has clearly outspent the other teams and has repeatedly reaped the benefits of its investments.

Yet there are others out there with as much claim to the future as we have. But, in our arrogance, we do not give them credit for being just as smart and capable as we are. We have an advantage because of our economic good fortune (some of that at the expense of others) and the bad fortunes of others.

We ignore the fact that China's history dwarfs our own existence as a nation; that's something we should respect.

In fact, we should respect all nations' contributions and should expect that at some point their scientists will master the same laws of the universe as ours. And when they are economically able, and feel it a necessity as we do to try and put spy satellites in space only friendly relations and treaties will prevent it.

And we surely ignore the fact that a lot of our own gains in technology, nuclear weaponry and scientific progress were made possible with the help of many foreigners.

All of these points draw me to one main conclusion: It does not become us to bash the Chinese over their ability to finally come up with the technology to miniaturize nuclear warheads after all these years. That is why it is crucial that all nations honor agreements concerning the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Otherwise, who is to say which nation has the right to be the next member of the nuclear club? Similar to our racial situation, we keep going over the same ground.

Paul Delaney is director of the Center for the Study of Race and Media at Howard University in Washington.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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