By Dr. George Koo
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
President-elect Barack Obama’s appointment of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary reaffirms his commitment to change our national energy policy and make the development of alternative energy sources a top priority.
Since taking over the leadership of Lawrence Laboratory, the Nobel laureate physicist Chu has been busy promoting the need to combat global warming by shifting away from dependence on fossil fuel. His laboratory has become an active center of research on alternative energy. He has been prominent in various local and national forums stressing the urgent nature of global warming.
Chu has the technical expertise, personal charisma and passion to help Obama change the way we consume energy and heat up the atmosphere. Obama’s decision not to select a Washington insider but someone with a firm grasp of the relevant technological issues, suggests that he is serious about finding the right person to deal with the threat of global warming.
To even remotely suggest that the appointment of Chu is in some way a response to the growing objection to incoming Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson — who was Secretary of Energy during the Wen Ho Lee case — is to discredit Obama’s intention to recruit the best and most qualified, not to mention discounting Chu’s sterling credentials.
Certainly, Richardson’s credentials could also be considered those of a heavyweight — except, ironically, for his record as the Energy Secretary under the Clinton administration.
In late 1998 and early 1999, right-wing opponents were attacking Clinton from multiple fronts, including the accusation that military secrets were being leaked to China. To relieve the pressure of these attacks, Richardson made Lee, then employed at the Los Alamos Laboratory, a convenient scapegoat. He fired Lee two days after an article from The New York Times indicated that secrets had been leaked from Los Alamos.
Lee was fired without due process. He didn’t know what he did wrong. It took months after his dismissal for prosecutors and the FBI to come up with 59 counts against him, all but one of which was thrown out by the court. Lee had to plead guilty to one count of downloading sensitive data from a secured central computer in order to justify the nine months he had already spent in solitary confinement. (At about the same time, CIA Director John Deutsch took his own secured laptop home against regulations and he didn’t even spend a day in jail).
The presiding judge apologized to Lee. The New York Times and other major members of the media published mea culpas. Even the FBI admitted falsifying evidence against Lee. Only Richardson to this day will not admit that he had done anything wrong. His inability to admit a mistake and apologize continues to be a heavy blot on his credentials.
The appointment of Chu should be a welcomed fresh breeze to erase the stench of a past national disgrace. As a native-born American, Chu presumably will not be subject to racial profiling. By serving as the director of an agency that less than a decade ago was so riddled with racial bias is to indicate that the Obama administration truly signifies a new beginning.
With an Asian American serving as the energy czar, national laboratories should begin to see increasing numbers of Asian Americans with a renewed interest in working there. It has been no secret that scientists and engineers of Asian ancestry represent one of our most valuable national resources.
This commentary was originally published by New American Media on Dec. 11.
Koo came to the U.S. as a child from China, grew up in Seattle and educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara Univ. Dr. Koo has recently retired from Deloitte & Touche, where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations.