Did US fumble chance to peer inside China's secretive leadership?

WASHINGTON - Information about a Chinese policeman who implicated the wife of a top Chinese official in a British businessman's murder was not circulated widely in Washington as he was considered of marginal intelligence value, current and former US officials said.

In the weeks since Wang Lijun's visit to the US Consulate in Chengdu and his subsequent detention, some critics of the Obama administration have accused it of fumbling what could have been one of the highest-level defectors ever from inside China's clannish leadership class.

Part of that criticism is based on a story line that upon reaching the consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, Wang requested political asylum.

The administration's public line has been that Wang did not request asylum and left the consulate of his own accord.

However, some officials suggest that at some point, Wang at least may have hinted at a desire for asylum. And some US officials say consultations were held at a high level in Washington before Wang left the consulate and surrendered to what he believed were friendly central government officials.

US diplomats and intelligence officials said US agencies were initially skeptical of Wang's stories and that one of his most sensational claims, involving an alleged murder, was not circulated in Washington to officials normally briefed on such information.

"We were not told about the murder (allegations) until much later," after stories describing Wang Lijun's visit to the consulate surfaced in the media, one US official told Reuters.

This official and others said agencies in Washington dealing with the Wang case concluded that while intriguing, it was primarily a local sideshow involving individuals, including Wang himself, of questionable character and credibility.

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