- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000


Since federal prosecutors negotiated a one-felony-count plea bargain two weeks ago with Wen Ho Lee, the former nuclear-weapons computer scientist who was charged in December with 59 felony counts, recriminations have been flowing fast and furiously. Congressional hearings have begun. On Tuesday, the editors of the New York Times, whose investigative reports since March 1999 have been criticized for causing a political frenzy amounting to a witch hunt, published an extraordinarily critical analysis of its own reporting.
However, before Lee is given official martyr status as the supposed victim of "ethnic profiling," it is worth recalling what he has admitted to doing. In 1993, 1994 and 1997, Lee unilaterally erased classified markings on documents, which were then shifted from secure computers to open, accessible computers, where the information was then copied onto 10 portable computer tapes, seven of which are still missing. Altogether, he copied nearly 400 computer files, the equivalent of 400,000 pages of data, including the mathematical approximation of the designs of nuclear weapons, their exact dimensions, information about testing problems, actual and simulated testing results and computer programs required to design and test weapons. His colleagues have insisted that there was no legitimate reason for Lee to copy those files, to say nothing of stealing them. When prosecutors pressed for pre-trial confinement in harsh, solitary conditions, Paul Robinson, the president of Sandia National Laboratory, which develops nuclear weapons, asserted that the information Lee downloaded and transferred to tapes could "truly change the world strategic balance."
Lee has maintained that he destroyed the missing tapes. As part of the plea bargain, he will undergo extensive debriefing and polygraph exams to convince national security officials that he is telling the truth. But that begs a couple of questions: Why would he spend 70 hours, many late at night and on weekends, copying the secrets only to destroy the tapes? And why, after losing his security clearance, did he repeatedly attempt to enter a classified area?
Damage assessment in such cases has always been a major priority. The debriefings may prove to be more valuable to the nation's security than a lengthy prison sentence unaccompanied by full disclosure if Lee were found guilty by a jury a prospect the presiding judge did not discount.
Lee's evolving martyr status becomes even more questionable considering the fact that a government report issued in November 1998 revealed that between October 1997 and June 1998 there were more than 300 foreign attacks on the Energy Department's unclassified computer system, where Lee had downloaded the secrets of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Whether those secrets were stolen by foreign hackers is anybody's guess. But Lee would certainly bear responsibility.
Regarding the assertions that Lee was the victim of "ethnic profiling," which the FBI vigorously denies, it is worth noting that China has a long history of using Chinese-Americans, including emigres from Taiwan such as Lee, as spies. Larry Wu-Tai Chin, an analyst-linguist for the CIA and the U.S. Army, for example, spent 30 years spying for China before being caught in 1985. Lee himself admitted that he had failed to report a contact with a Chinese official, as he was required to do. Indeed, as it turned out, even though Lee was not indicted for espionage, his status as a suspect proved to be well-deserved by virtue of the felonious actions that he ultimately admitted to taking. Wen Ho Lee was not one of the good guys not by a long shot.


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