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The spy who was anything but cold
By John Berthelsen

There are certain ironies, cognitive disconnects, floating up from the arrest in Los Angeles on spying charges on April 18 of Katrina Leung, a Chinese-born socialite and fundraiser for the Republican Party. Leung is being held without bail on charges that she had been a Chinese spy and double agent for more than 20 years and had slept with two of her Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handlers - one of whom warned the other that she was a spy - while remaining faithfully married to her husband, Kam, a pharmaceutical distributor.

"I love my wife, Katrina Leung, very much," Dr Kam Leung told reporters outside the Los Angeles area courthouse where she was charged. "We all know that she has high ideals and was working for this country. We look forward to welcoming her home very soon."

The Leung story has all the knobs and switches of a classic spy drama. She is said to have had two code names - one from each side. She was allegedly assigned the name "Luo Zhongshan" by Zhu Qizhen, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, for her Chinese handlers at the Chinese Ministry of State Security. She was known as "Parlor Maid" to her US handlers, James J Smith, a 30-year veteran of the FBI, and William Cleveland, Smith's superior. Both are also said to have been her paramours.

Behind the headlines, there is plenty of discomfiture all around. It is yet another monumental embarrassment for the FBI and the Republican Party in the United States, whose leaders for years delivered blistering accusations of treason against the Democratic administration of president Bill Clinton for allegedly giving away state and military secrets to the Chinese.

Now, it appears, if the charges against Leung are true, it was a highly placed Republican giving away the secrets, and FBI agents who were witting or unwitting participants. Certainly, with a Republican administration in power in Washington, DC, federal authorities and congressional leaders have gone inordinately quiet, to Democratic glee, after calling for a seemingly never-ending parade of public congressional hearings into allegations against the Democrats. "Will the FBI look into Leung's donations to the Republican Party and her activist involvement with the GOP [Grand Old Party, or Republicans]? Don't bet the ranch on it," said a Democratic newsletter, Buzz/Flash News Analysis. The newsletter and other Democratic organs have repeatedly asked whether Leung had been passing along Chinese government money to influence the Republicans, as the Republicans, in a tit-for-tat, had charged the Democrats with doing during the Clinton administration.

Leung and her husband emigrated from China to San Marino, once a nearly all-white, extremely wealthy, conservative enclave of Los Angeles. Since the early 1990s, it has increasingly filled up with wealthy Chinese, particularly those betting against a benign takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 by the Chinese government. She describes herself as a "venture capitalist" and owns a bookstore, Monterey Books and Stationers, in nearby Monterey Park. She rose quickly to the top of Los Angeles Republican ranks, giving lavish parties at her US$2 million home, which is flanked by four stone lions and features two swimming pools. A US congressman named her to the California State Republican Central Committee. Leung was spotted at the inaugural ball of President George W Bush.

Leung was more than just a spy and counterspy. She appears to have been a fixer in China as well for individuals and companies seeking guanxi with Chinese leaders. In an affidavit filed in Los Angeles in the case, the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel indicated it had paid her a $1.2 million commission for her services. US government documents indicate she maintained 16 foreign bank accounts in Hong Kong and China. Making countless trips to China, she operated a variety of companies in Hong Kong under names such as "Right Fortune" and "Merry Glory".

She accompanied former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan to China seeking a multimillion-dollar contract to get the Chinese to use Los Angeles' underutilized seaport. With her help, Riordan met with Chinese president Jiang Zemin. She also sought to aid current Los Angeles Mayor Kenneth Hahn on a recent trade mission to China.

On her trips to China, she associated with the very top of the Chinese government. The sensational reporting flowing out of Los Angeles implies that Leung, a round-faced, bespectacled native of Guangdong province, must have been absolutely torrid in the boudoir. Several newspapers emphasized the fact that Yang Shangkun, who was president of China from 1988-93, "liked her". She was also said to be a "favorite" of other Chinese leaders. In papers filed with the Los Angeles court, in addition to the $1.7 million she received from the US government for her espionage services against the Chinese, she had also received $100,000 from the Chinese government.

Leung, now 49, allegedly carried on a relationship for 20 years with Smith, the FBI's top expert on Chinese counterintelligence in Los Angeles until his retirement in 2000. Smith had been warned a full 12 years earlier by William Cleveland, his superior, that wiretaps indicated Leung might be a double agent. Smith defended her. Cleveland apparently decided to check for himself and ended up in bed with her, according to affidavits made available to Asia Times Online.

Smith has been charged separately with wire fraud and gross negligence and is free on $250,000 bail, raising questions by Leung's lawyers why he has been allowed out while she is being held without bail. The court, however, said that Leung's overseas wealth meant she could escape to China with her classified documents. The US has no extradition treaty with China. Her lawyers point out that she would hardly flee to a country on which she had spied for the United States for more than 20 years, even as a double agent.

After Cleveland left the FBI, he became chief of counterintelligence programs at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, home of some of the most sensitive nuclear weapons research in the US. He resigned from that position after his relationship with Leung became public.

The New York Times reported in April that the Leung case "is part of a much broader institutional problem that has led to the disciplining of several hundred agents in recent years for improper dealings with informants". This allegedly included working out schemes to rip off tens of thousands of dollars by padding expenses paid to the informants, the Times reported.

An FBI spokesperson in Los Angeles said she could not verify the figure, compiled by the Office of Professional Responsibility for the FBI, but said it is "probably accurate" although it extends to investigations for transgressions other than having improper relationships with informants. The office's discipline records are confidential, she said.

Leung's lawyers, John Vandevelde and Janet Levine, would not agree to be interviewed, saying the case is too sensitive. In a series of printed statements, they contend that she is innocent of all charges despite the fact that FBI Special Agent Randall Thomas, in a sworn deposition, said Leung "has actually admitted that she had been passing information to the People's Republic of China [PRC] without FBI authorization". According to Thomas's affidavit, Leung voluntarily consented to a search of parts of her property, and provided what appeared to be incriminating documents from her safe to the FBI during the search.

In an interview with two other FBI agents, Leung acknowledged holding a variety of other documents, which she said she had taken out of Smith's briefcase and copied when Smith left the room to go to the bathroom. But either he took long bathroom breaks, or she had to be inordinately fast to do it.

Interestingly enough, neither she nor Smith is charged with espionage, which carries the death penalty. She is instead charged with unauthorized possession of documents relating to national defense and two counts of copying documents connected with the US national defense with reason to believe that they would be used to the benefit of another country. "We are still investigating," said a spokesman for the US Attorney's office in Los Angeles.

Certainly, there are questions about what secrets she gave away. Some officials suggested that she may have been involved in an incident in January 2002, when Chinese officials said they had found 27 listening devices aboard a Boeing 767-300 jetliner purchased for then president Jiang Zemin's private use. The $120-million aircraft was purchased in June 2000 and delivered to the Chinese government in August 2001. The Chinese said they had discovered the listening devices, including some in the president's bed headboard and the plane's bathroom, in October of that year.

However, lawyers for Smith deny Leung had anything to do with the case. It seems more likely that if anything the matters involved more spy-versus-spy maneuverings. There is a distinct feeling that when the case is complete, there will be less to it than suggested by the sensational reporting.

"Katrina Leung was a loyal and valuable citizen of the US and truly an 'asset' to this country, providing information that the FBI verified and then used at the very highest levels of government," her lawyers wrote. They say the information she passed on to the Chinese "was outdated, useless and mostly unclassified pieces of paper that were brought to her house by the FBI many years ago in the first place, and were voluntarily given back to the FBI recently by Katrina."

On the other hand, both prosecution and defense agree, the part about the quality of information she was providing to the US government about the Chinese seems to be true. Her lawyers say they believe her handler "was given awards by the FBI and CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] based on intelligence obtained from her". The Thomas affidavit indicates that they had used her tips "in the conduct of various foreign counterintelligence investigations, including detecting efforts by the PRC to clandestinely obtain technologies that have military applications". Thomas indicates that "the FBI must now reassess all of its actions and intelligence analyses based on her reporting".

The story also highlights again charges of racism by the FBI against Asian-Americans that arose from the agency's bumbling in the investigation of Wen Ho Lee. Lee is a Taiwan-born nuclear scientist at the government's Los Alamos nuclear facility who spent 278 days in solitary confinement after being accused of passing on secrets of the W-88 nuclear warhead to the Chinese government. He was charged with 59 counts of mishandling sensitive information but was freed in September 2000 with an apology from presiding US District Court Judge James A Parker, who said the case "embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it".

It remains to be seen whether this is going to be yet another embarrassment for the country and each of its citizens.

(©2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
 
May 27, 2003



 

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