- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was fired and jailed on charges of mishandling nuclear-weapons secrets, has reached a plea bargain in which he will plead guilty to one charge and cooperate with federal investigators, Justice Department sources said.
Mr. Lee will plead guilty to one felony count of unlawfully retaining nuclear-weapon secrets, be sentenced to time already served and be immediately freed following a hearing, according to two senior officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The officials said Mr. Lee, who has been jailed for nine months, has agreed to provide information on seven missing computer tapes with data on nuclear-weapons design and testing. Three other tapes with information Mr. Lee reportedly downloaded have been recovered.
"The location and fate of the tapes were always of paramount concern," one of the officials said. Mr. Lee said earlier that he had destroyed the seven tapes, but officials had implied that they believed the tapes might still exist.
"Dr. Lee and his family are thrilled at the prospect that he may be released unconditionally tomorrow," defense attorney Mark Holscher said Sunday, adding that he cannot elaborate on terms of the settlement because they have not yet been filed.
District Judge James Parker said a hearing had been scheduled for today on Mr. Lee's plea agreement. Lawyers had been expected to argue today before an appeals court in Denver on whether Mr. Lee should be released on bail. The plea agreement cancels that hearing, the sources said.
The sources said Mr. Lee will plead guilty to one of the 59 counts against him of unlawful gathering of national defense information. He also will agree to hold himself completely available for federal investigators and cooperate with them over the next six months.
It was also expected that Mr. Lee would drop his charges that prosecutors went after him because he is Chinese-American.
"This is a favorable resolution," one of the sources said yesterday, adding that it was a good outcome for both sides.
Another Justice Department source said: "This is a process that began nearly a month ago and the willingness to negotiate is driven on the government's side by the overwhelming national-security need to determine what happened with the missing tapes. From our perspective, we've struck a bargain here that creates the maximum possible [opportunity for] either locating the tapes and determining what happened to them or [determining] who had access to them, if anybody.
"It's far more important from a national-security perspective to determine what happened to the information on the tapes than to have Wen Ho Lee found guilty on similar counts in the indictment.
"There's a great willingness on the part of Justice and the FBI should he not prove truthful in the process to go back to court and continue prosecution."
Mr. Lee, 60, was accused of downloading restricted material about nuclear weapons to unsecured computers and tapes while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His trial had been set for Nov. 6, and he could have faced life in prison if convicted of all 59 counts.
Mr. Lee has been jailed since his arrest Dec. 10.
Judge Parker signed a release order for Mr. Lee to be freed on $1 million bail last month before the 10th Circuit stayed his order. Judge Parker had set strict conditions for his release, including electronic monitoring, restrictions on travel and limits on the number of people with whom Mr. Lee could communicate.
Prosecutors have said releasing Mr. Lee would be a risk because he could pass on the tapes or communicate their contents to foreign governments.
Many scientific groups have protested the conditions of the Taiwan-born Mr. Lee's arrest, saying he has been the target of ethnic and racial profiling by the government.
"It's an astonishing development and an amazing retreat by the government," said Steve Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. "They had evidently decided he was not working in the interest of a foreign power or to the detriment of the United States. It's only regrettable that conclusion was not reached many months ago."
In the White Rock neighborhood where Mr. Lee lives, his neighbors Don and Jean Marshall said they were planning a "Welcome Home" party.
"We'd like to have people here, line the street. We have a bunch of flags for people to wave" to show that neighbors believe in the justice system, Don Marshall said.

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