Only in America?
Review by John M. Handley
Code Name Kindred Spirit: Inside the Chinese Nuclear Espionage Scandal. By Notra Trulock. (San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2003. Pp xvi-385, hardback.)
How many times has one heard the expression “Only in America”? Notra Turlock’s Code Name Kindred Spirit may well fall within such a characterization. Only in America can one find a book so critical of the government and its institutions, including the departments of energy, defense, justice, and commerce, the White House, Congress, the CIA and the FBI. Unfortunately for all Americans, the criticisms appear justified. Having worked for thirty years in intelligence, and heading the intelligence program for DOE from 1995 to his departure from federal service in 1999, Trulock brings to life the stumbling, bumbling, and often counterproductive efforts of DOE and the FBI to investigate the loss to the PRC of classified nuclear data from the U.S. nuclear laboratories. Added to this “keystone cop” portrayal of events, Trulock describes the obstruction he encountered from political appointees as well as from the lab employees themselves when he attempted to put into place counterintelligence measures that would prevent the future loss of classified nuclear data. The most disturbing allegation out of a host of disturbing allegations is that these measures, for the most part, still remain to be implemented. American nuclear laboratories remain vulnerable to espionage and exploitation. Trulock presents an authoritative and documented, albeit defensive, account of the discovery of espionage at the U.S. nuclear labs and his thwarted efforts (1) to establish systems that would prevent the further loss of classified information, (2) to provide leads for an FBI investigation, and (3) to inform the appropriate Congressional committees of this very significant loss of classified material.
Notra Trulock begins Kindred Spirit by stating his two reasons for writing the book. First, he wants to explain to his children why their lives changed dramatically for the worse after the investigation of Wen Ho Lee, and second, he hopes for some vindication by offering his account of the events that led to the investigation and subsequent trial of Wen Ho Lee. Mr. Trulock presents a well-sourced personal account of these events based upon interviews with other participants, congressional testimony and reports, as well as reports from various government agencies.
The major thesis repeated throughout the book concerns the past and present vulnerability of America’s nuclear laboratories to exploitation from other nations. The problem centers around the largely unmonitored foreign scientist visitor’s program that grants access to U.S. nuclear labs to scientists from every nation on the planet with the possible exception of Israel. Mr. Trulock backs up this allegation through unclassified primary source material taken from the Presidents Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB Report), the Justice Department (Bellows Report), the House of Representatives (Redmond Report and Cox Report), the U.S. Senate (Specter Report), statements from Senators Thompson and Lieberman, and the testimony of Janet Reno. While highlighting the vulnerability of US nuclear laboratories to foreign exploitation, Mr. Trulock continually points out that Wen Ho Lee was only one of 12 suspects his DOE Administrative Inquiry revealed. DOE provided these leads to the FBI expecting all 12 individuals, as well as DOD (largely Navy) contractors, to be investigated. Mr. Trulock left his DOE position in 1999. Wen Ho Lee went to trial the following year. During the period from 1995 through 1999, neither Notra Trulock nor any other individual within DOE singled out Wen Ho Lee as an agent for the PRC. Fixation on Wen Ho Lee came from the FBI. Mr. Trulock expends considerable energy and effort refuting the allegations that he was a racist or that he had decided prior to 1999 that Wen Ho Lee was a Chinese spy. Even though Notra Trulock may not have reached such a conclusion prior to 1999, it appears certain from the evidence presented in this book that Wen Ho Lee and his wife, Sylvia, worked for PRC interests for 20 years or more.
Although Notra Trulock has an important story to tell, he does not tell it well. The book is difficult to read, not in complexity but in over simplification. Rarely does one find a page in which at least two, if not three or more, sentences begin with a conjunction. This writing style becomes a distraction after awhile. Mr. Trulock never met a colloquialism he did not like, and he found a place in the book for every trite, colloquial expression he ever heard. His account contains numerous acronyms, most explained, but not all. Additionally, the book contains a considerable amount of intelligence-related jargon. Although he apparently did not enjoy his few years in military service, he seems to have learned the lesson of military instruction: tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. Approximately one-third of the book falls under the category of repetition. A skillful editor could have improved the book considerably by reducing the numerous instances of repetition as well as in eliminating a few typographical and grammatical errors.
With all its faults, Notra Trulock tells a compelling story of what nuclear secrets were lost, how they were lost, who received them, the efforts by Clinton White House and DOE political appointees and lab officials to cover up these loses, the role of Wen Ho and Sylvia Lee in these events, and the role of the FBI and the CIA to protect their respective agencies from any blame for mishandling the case. Both of the Republican led House and Senate congressional committees that investigated US nuclear lab security receive considerable criticism for not investigating the PRC espionage phenomenon to the extent possible, for not protecting those, like Notra Trulock, who testified in front of these committees, and for not ensuring that the laboratories implemented both Presidential and Congressional mandated security recommendations. Mr. Trulock ends the book by showing how Wen Ho Lee became a “victim” and he, Notra Trulock, became the “villain” in this melodrama, largely due to the spin Washington and New York reporters, with the help of Wen Ho Lee’s lawyers, put on events during Lee’s trial.
All in all, this is an important book for students and practitioners of international relations. It demonstrates the vulnerability of US nuclear laboratories and explains the successful efforts by the Chinese scientists, through the use of ethnicity, to extract US nuclear secrets from the labs and lab Chinese-American employees.