- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, in a vigorous defense of the Wen Ho Lee prosecution, yesterday said a search continues for as many as 14 computer tapes illegally copied by the nuclear scientist containing the government's top nuclear weapons secrets.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary and Select Intelligence committees, Mr. Freeh said the still-missing tapes contain "our nation's most sensitive nuclear weapons design and testing secrets" and were the impetus behind an agreement allowing Lee to plead guilty to one of 59 felony counts charged in an indictment.

"The government made this agreement for one overarching reason: to find out what happened to the missing tapes," said Mr. Freeh, saying Lee created "his own secret, portable, personal trove of this nation's nuclear weapons secrets."

Mr. Freeh said each of the 59 counts outlined in the December 1999 indictment "could be proven today," but the government opted for the agreement to avoid "revealing nuclear secrets" in open court.

Attorney General Janet Reno also defended the prosecution, saying, "Dr. Lee is no hero. He is not an absent-minded professor. He is a felon. He committed a very serious calculated crime and he pled guilty to it."

Lee, 60, pleaded guilty this month to illegally transferring secret data from classified computers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and then downloading the information to a computer at a location he knew was unsecured. The data included information on the design, manufacture and use of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Freeh dismissed as "not correct" concerns by some committee members that the government could have made a deal with Lee before his indictment, avoiding nine months of solitary confinement.

He said prosecutors repeatedly told Lee he could avoid charges by giving a "truthful and credible" explanation of why he made the tapes, where they are and who had access to them. He said the efforts failed because Lee sought unacceptable conditions.

The plea bargain finally was signed after Lee agreed to cooperate in the case, including submitting to a polygraph examination. He was released Sept. 13 after 279 days of confinement at a New Mexico jail.

The deal, however, caused the presiding judge to apologize to Lee for his imprisonment and criticize the government for embarrassing "our entire nation."

In addition, President Clinton said he found it difficult to reconcile how prosecutors could "keep someone in jail without bail, argue right up to the 11th hour that they're a terrible risk, and then turn around and make that sort of plea agreement."

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and Select Intelligence Committee chairman, took Mr. Clinton to task for his criticism of the probe. He said investigators "certainly deserve better than the criticism they received from the president, the very individual that sanctioned the prosecution."

"The president knew exactly what was going on. His national security adviser was in the meeting where the principals of the law enforcement and national security communities made the decision to proceed with the prosecution," he said. "The president's statement basically made a mockery of the principles of the chain of command, responsibility and loyalty to subordinates."

Lee's debriefing by the FBI, scheduled to begin yesterday, was postponed because of the Senate hearing.

Mr. Freeh said Lee downloaded files on portable computer tapes and made additional copies by overriding default systems at Los Alamos designed to prevent any accidental or inadvertent movement of the files.

He said the downloading took 40 hours over a 70-day period, that Lee "carefully and methodically" removed classification markings from documents and that he attempted on 33 occasions to enter secure areas at Los Alamos after his access had been revoked.

"Dr. Lee's conduct was not inadvertent, it was not careless, it was not innocent," Mr. Freeh said. "Over a period of years, he used an elaborate scheme to move the equivalent of 400,000 pages of extremely sensitive nuclear weapons files from a secure part of the computer system to an unclassified, unsecured part of the system, which could be accessed from anywhere outside of Los Alamos, even over the Internet."

Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier told the committee that in the "wrong hands," the tapes could provide valuable information for the development and design of advanced nuclear weapons.

Some committee members expressed concern that Lee had been held in solitary confinement at the Santa Fe County Jail for nine months with his feet and hands shackled at times.

Miss Reno said while she agreed it was unnecessarily harsh to shackle Lee, he was not treated differently than other prisoners at the facility. She also said a March 10 memo from Santa Fe County Sheriff Raymond L. Sisneros noted that Lee had no complaints about his incarceration, telling the sheriff "the staff was treating him very well."

Lee worked in what was known as the "X Division" at Los Alamos, which is responsible for the research, design and development of nuclear weapons. The division requires the highest level of security.

Mr. Freeh said the data Lee downloaded on 10 portable computer tapes included the "electronic blueprints of the exact dimensions and geometry of this nation's nuclear weapons."

The FBI chief also denied the Lee case was the result of racial profiling, saying "there is simply no truth to these allegations." He said the Taiwan-born scientist "was investigated and prosecuted because of his actions, not his race."

He noted that Lee first became known to the FBI in 1982 when he met with a suspected foreign agent under investigation by FBI counterintelligence officials. He said Lee initially denied the meeting, but later acknowledged it. No charges were ever brought.

In 1994, Mr. Freeh said Lee met with a foreign nuclear weapons designer, although he did not report the meeting as required. Two years later, he said, Lee was the subject of an Energy Department probe into the compromise of information about the W-88 nuclear warhead. He was not charged.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide