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The New York Times
April 14, 2001

Investigation Finds No Bias Against Asians in U.S. Labs

By James Glanz

An investigation by the Energy Department's inspector general concludes that scientists of Asian descent seeking security clearances were not subject to racial profiling in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee case.

The finding, which was made public this week, rebutted widespread accusations of bias by the scientists and by Asian-American organizations outside the laboratories, and seemed to contradict much of a study issued last year by a special Energy Department commission on racial profiling. That study compiled numerous reports of racial bias in the treatment of Asian and Asian- American scientists at the laboratories as a result of the charges against Dr. Lee, who eventually pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

But the new report by the inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, concluded that the information reviewed by his office "did not support concerns regarding unfair treatment based on national origin."

The inspector general's report had a narrower focus than the special commission's, examining a handful of complaints involving security clearance at the laboratories. The inspector general said that the Energy Department's ombudsman, Dr. Jeremy Wu, who deals with claims of racial profiling, had declined to identify several scientists with complaints, citing confidentiality.

The inspector general's report did note that Dr. Wu "stated his belief that there are `strong and continuing allegations about bias and profiling.' "

The investigation was ordered last November by Bill Richardson, then the secretary of energy. But an Energy Department official who is familiar with the report said that because Dr. Wu had declined to identify his sources, the investigation focused on just four cases involving Asian and Asian-American scientists whose security clearances had been either revoked or not renewed for a time.

"The facts that we have are the facts that we have," the official said. "We are not commenting on the overall climate on questions of discrimination in the national laboratories."

Some scientists and other observers of the laboratories said the report was more likely to confuse rather than to clarify the racial environment at the laboratories, which are operated by the Energy Department.

"There are severe limitations on the scope of this investigation, which I would say undercut its conclusion," said Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group that monitors national security. "It did not investigate any of the complaints that the ombudsman has received."

Both Dr. Wu and Mr. Richardson were traveling today and could not be reached for comment. But Joseph H. Davis, an Energy Department spokesman, said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was reviewing the inspector general's findings.

"The secretary has said that he will continue to work with our many ethnic groups to ensure that their many concerns about racial profiling are met," Mr. Davis said.

The report's conclusions provoked conflicting reactions at Los Alamos. John Gustafson, a Los Alamos spokesman, said that while Dr. John C. Browne, the laboratory director, had not yet reviewed the report in detail, "certainly the bottom-line conclusion is an encouraging one."

"Absolutely, the laboratory did not and does not engage in racial profiling," Mr. Gustafson said.

Dr. Aaron Lai, a climate researcher at Los Alamos and a naturalized citizen born in Taiwan, said procedures for granting security clearances to Asian scientists had recently improved. But Dr. Lai said that during the period covered by the report, Asians and Asian-Americans at Los Alamos would agree that there was "very strong bias, very strong discrimination."

Those accusations of bias led to calls by Asian-American organizations for a boycott of the national laboratories, urging Asian scientists not to accept jobs there, widespread protests and a discrimination complaint against Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by Asian employees. The complaint is pending at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said Jack W. Lee, a San Francisco lawyer representing the employees.

Without commenting on the specifics of that case, Mr. Davis said Mr. Abraham planned to send a strongly worded memorandum to department employees on Monday declaring that he would combat any trace of profiling in the Department of Energy.

"Any practice of racial profiling shall be eliminated and prevented from occurring in the department," the memorandum reads, Mr. Davis said. "Sound management must be practiced throughout D.O.E. to create and maintain a respectful and productive work environment free of profiling, discrimination and fear."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times

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