It was only Nicole Perlroth’s easily overlooked but important article in the business section of the New York Times in mid-May that drew me to the tribulations of Sherry Chen, a 59-year-old hydrologist with the National Weather Service. One day, six FBI agents showed up in her Wilmington, Ohio, office and, without explanation and in front of her colleagues, this supposedly dangerous and frightened middle-aged woman was shackled and driven away.
Happily, her Chinese-American defenders immediately rose to her defense, alleging she was victimized by racial profiling. The Times had earlier reported that she’d been investigated as a suspected Chinese spy though all charges were eventually dropped “without explanation.” Never mind the emotional, physical and financial toll she bore. With the help of Rep. Ted Lieu and Asian-American groups, Sherry Chen is now fighting for reinstatement, back salary, and most important, an apology, which she’ll probably never get. George Koo of the Committee of 100, put it this way: “Whenever the relationship [between China and the U.S.] is poor, Chinese-Americans suddenly become suspected spies for China. Sherry Chen is just the latest example.”
So, Good Luck, Sherry Chen, dealing with a presidential administration which will leave as one of its legacies an unprecedented number of prosecuted leakers and whistleblowers.
But, wait, there’s more. Rep. Lieu and four California congressional Democrats, Barbara Lee, Michael Honda, Judy Chu and Mark Takano have pointed to yet another possible reason for Sherry Chen’s troubles, namely the Insider Threat Program. According to Perlroth, Rep. Lieu claimed a federal employee had initially fingered Chen.
The intrepid Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy Newspapers described the ITP in 2011 as an “an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for ‘high-risk persons or behavior’ among co-workers. Those who failed to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.”
If Taylor and Landay are correct, and I believe they are, law-abiding and patriotic federal employees now know they have to keep an eye on their fellow workers. Need some help? How about placards warning, “If you hear something, say something.” 0r avoid the too-liberal New York Times and NPR or even Fox TV if the wrong people ever capture the White House. It’s much like those old propaganda films which allowed us to feel morally superior when some brainwashed German or Soviet kids ratted on their skeptical family, earning Mom and Dad a late night visit from you know who.
Thus far, I’ve only read of sporadic objections amid mystifying silence. But if Big Media won’t take a detailed crack at Sherry Chen’s situation and the ITP, then let’s hope Onion will. We could use lots more levity, mockery and wit these days.