Richardson: Profiling Probe in Dept

Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Bill Richardson wants an internal investigation into whether any government or contractor employees working for the Energy Department have been victims of racial profiling.

Richardson, who planned to announce the new actions Monday, said in an interview he remains convinced that the high-profile case of former weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee, a native of Taiwan, did not involve racial profiling.

But he said there are ``enough instances throughout the complex'' to raise suspicion that such discrimination has gone on within the department and its vast contractor system, and ``I want to eliminate once and for all any future suspicions.''

Richardson did not give any specific cases.

``I will not tolerate even hints of racial profiling,'' he said. ``We have made progress addressing concerns of racial profiling, but more needs to be done.''

The actions outlined by Richardson include:

—Directing the Energy Department's inspector general to investigate whether there has been any racial profiling of DOE's federal or contractor work force, especially in activities involving security.

—Revising contracts to stipulate that safeguards against racial profiling be included in any contractors' work force diversity plan.

—Ordering that failure by a contractor to deal with racial profiling be considered a factor when determining contract fees.

Richardson said he wants to make certain there are financial penalties against contractors if they are found to have taken punitive actions or singled out a worker based solely on race or ethnic background.

Earlier this year, an independent task force concluded there is a widespread belief among Asian-American scientists at government weapons laboratories — especially the Los Alamos, N.M., facility where Lee worked — that they are being singled out by security officials because of their race.

Among other things, the task force found that some scientists at U.S. labs believe their supervisors didn't want Asian-Americans on certain projects, fearing unwanted counterintelligence attention. This became particularly evident in the security crackdown following Lee's arrest in March 1999 and the turmoil over alleged theft of secrets by China, the scientists said.

The three nuclear weapons labs are under the Energy Department but managed by private contractors — Sandia by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Co., and Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore by the University of California.

Lee, 60, who had worked at Los Alamos since the 1970s, was the target of an FBI espionage investigation for three years before he was fired. He later was accused of mishandling nuclear secrets — but not espionage — and jailed for nine months before being released in September as part of a plea bargain. The government dropped all but one of its 59 charges against him.

Lee's lawyers had argued in court that Lee, an American citizen who was born in Taiwan, became the target of the FBI investigation because of his Chinese heritage. Both Richardson and Attorney General Janet Reno have denied Lee was singled out because of his race.

Shortly before the plea bargain was reached, the judge hearing the case directed the government to turn over numerous documents that Lee's lawyers had sought on racial profiling, including instances at the Energy Department.

Some civil rights lawyers have argued that these documents should be released despite Lee's plea bargain agreement. Efforts to gain their release are still being considered.