Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Confusion over Keyser deepens

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS A senior US diplomat is at the center of a long tale of international intrigue that has people scratching heads in Foggy Bottom and Taipei

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US State Department official Donald Keyser in this July 14, 2003 file photo upon his arrival at the US Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea.

PHOTO: AP

A week after it broke, the Donald Keyser story still has the army of Taiwan and China experts and policymakers scratching their heads for answers to the many questions the case has raised. And it is likely to take until Oct. 13, when the preliminary hearing in the FBI's criminal complaint against Keyser takes place, for the answers to begin to become apparent.

The big question is why a person like Keyser, after more than 30 years of a superb career as a foreign officer would, according to the FBI's charges, allegedly break a major procedural rule for officials with a security clearance, and hold meetings that could be seen as questionable, even in the murky world of official US-Taiwan interaction.

Keyser, 61, joined the state department in 1972, two years after he completed a stint as a student at the now-defunct Stanford Center of National Taiwan University (NTU). He attended NTU during a period when a whole generation of US Chinese-language students, who later became some of the most influential policymakers and academics of today, developed a favorable disposition toward Taiwan and the Taiwanese people on a very personal level.

Basically, Keyser was charged in a criminal complaint filed Sept. 15 in a federal court in Virginia with failing to file an official report on a three-day trip to Taiwan in September last year.

The 10-page complaint also details a series of alleged meetings with two officers of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington between May and September of this year, although the complaint did not charge that the meetings violated any law.

The complaint did say, however, that the FBI is privy to more information, and hinted other charges may be brought in the future.

Keyser has not spoken to the press since the charges were filed. A call to his home in suburban Virginia received a voice message saying the family is away from the house.

The complaint does not impute a motive to Keyser's actions. There is no indication he received any money from Taiwan's government, and the New York Times has reported that Keyser denied to associates that he received any financial compensation.

Nor does the complaint say that documents Keyser allegedly handed the two TECRO officers during more than one meeting, were secret, stolen, or represented the basis of spying charges.

One of the documents, seized by agents after the final meeting on Sept. 4, was a six-page document entitled "Discussion Topics -- September 4, 2004." At one earlier meeting, Keyser gave one TECRO officer a "white piece of paper." At another he gave a "folder." At a third he handed the two officers "letter-sized envelopes."

Press reports have identified the two Taiwanese officials as Isabella Cheng (程念慈), 33, an officer of Taiwan's National Security Bureau (NSB), and her boss, Lieutenant General Huang Kuang-hsun (黃光勳), also of the NSB. Huang is believed to be TECRO's intelligence chief.

Peppered through the complaint are statements that suggest that sex or romance were at the heart of the incidents.

The complaint says Keyser took the Sept. 3 to Sept. 6 2003 Taipei trip as a side hop after a major meeting in China the previous month. In Taipei, Keyser allegedly met Cheng, who flew to Taiwan a few days earlier. During the trip, the FBI says that Keyser made a US$570.01 purchase at Christian Dior Taiwan-II in Taipei. Cheng returned to Washington a day after Keyser. Keyser reportedly told neither his superiors nor his family about the Taiwan trip.

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