Software, Security, and Ethnicity

Tuesday, 17 December 2002, 4:57 AM EST

The 2,000-mile distance from the stark high desert of Los Alamos, N.M., to the high-tech office parks of Boston's suburbs appears to have shrunken dramatically in the past two weeks. I'm referring to the cases of Wen Ho Lee and Oussama Ziade. Both represent the federal government's fears that moles could work their way into the U.S. and achieve positions of trust that they later use to harm national interests. Whether Ziade is in fact such a mole seems unlikely, but expect the scenario playing out in Quincy, Mass., where his company, Ptech, is based, to be often repeated as the war on radical Islamic terrorists ramps up.

The connection between Lee and Ziade? Call it the ghost of Christmas past. On Dec. 23, 1998, Lee, then a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, failed a polygraph test. He had been working on semisecret nuclear weapons programs, and the lie-detector results sparked FBI concerns that China had used Lee to steal sensitive U.S. bomb plans. The scientist's eight-month incarceration left a noxious taste in the mouths of thousands of U.S.-based researchers of Chinese nationality or Chinese descent who had to take polygraph tests at the U.S. government's behest. Lee walked free in the end, but the specter of electronic espioniage by foreign nations and terrorist groups has loomed large ever since.

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