A classic plotline of spy novels is that the secret agent turns out to be the quiet bespectacled fellow next door. U.S. Army Captain James Yee, being held by the government as part of its probe of espionage at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, fits the prototype almost perfectly.
One of five children born to devout Chinese Lutherans, Jimmy, as he was known at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, N.J., was a champion wrestler, an ace student and "a low-maintenance guy," according to his coach. A high school teammate recalls his wiry, 100-lb. friend as "well-mannered, disciplined and studious." Yee earned a ticket to West Point, from which he graduated in 1990. Later, after he rebelled against his Lutheran upbringing, converted to Islam and became a Muslim chaplain, he told anyone who would listen that his was a religion of peace. He lived quietly with his wife and young daughter in a middle-class apartment complex in Olympia, Wash. To the military, he was the ideal guy to minister to the hardened Muslim inmates at Gitmo.
So why is Jimmy Yee, 35, sitting in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., facing possible espionage charges? Yee, arrested on Sept. 10, is being held in connection with a widening investigation of spying at Guantanamo Bay, where some 660 detainees from 40 foreign countries have been held for 18 months. Yee may be guilty of nothing more than providing succor to prisoners, but the military wants to know why he had, as is alleged, hand-drawn sketches of the prison quarters, the names of interrogators and inmates, and notes on what was said during interviews.
Officials also want to know if he is linked to Ahmad al-Halabi, an Air Force senior airman and translator who was stationed at the base at the same time as Yee. The Pentagon disclosed last week that al-Halabi, who was arrested on July 23, faces 32 criminal charges, including four counts of violating the Federal Espionage Act. The military says al-Halabi, 24, tried to funnel classified information on Guantanamo prisoners to a Syrian government agent. Al-Halabi says he is innocent, and Syria's Information Minister calls the notion that al-Halabi or anyone else was spying for Syria at Guantanamo "baseless and illogical."
Pentagon officials say it is likely that Yee and al-Halabi knew each other, given that they shared a faith and cramped quarters at Guantanamo. Officials don't know if the two conspired with each other or if they're the only ones to have allegedly spied. As many as four other military personnel, among them a Navy sailor who served there, are also being investigated. How is it that in a place this physically impenetrable, security may have been compromised by "an enemy within," as one Air Force officer put it? Were these alleged spies simply not vetted properly before being sent down to Cuba, or were they somehow suborned by the prisoners there?