- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

The FBI yesterday admitted receiving a CIA report questioning its investigation of Wen Ho Lee as a suspected spy, but said the bureau took no action since it was focused at the time on "preventing even greater damage" to U.S. nuclear-weapons programs.
Spokesman John Collingwood said because the Lee inquiry had "stalled" in 1997, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh had directed his attention at efforts to prevent further losses of nuclear-weapons secrets and was "fully engaged" in helping the Energy Department establish a more vigorous counterintelligence effort.
"Clearly, our investigation should have included the technical discrepancies of the two nuclear-weapons analyses," Mr. Collingwood said in a statement, referring to a secret CIA assessment the FBI received in 1997 questioning the validity of the Energy Department's original information that caused investigators to focus on Lee.
The CIA assessment is described in a confidential Justice Department report written by Randy Bellows, a federal prosecutor assigned in 1999 by Attorney General Janet Reno to review the government's handling of the Lee affair. Mr. Bellows concluded the FBI "fumbled an extraordinary opportunity" to recognize from the CIA assessment that its investigation of Lee was off target.
Mr. Collingwood said that despite the CIA assessment, the FBI "improperly" focused its investigation too narrowly on Lee, but the bureau has since "adopted Bellows' recommendations and made other fundamental changes to avoid being in this position in the future."
The Bellows report, released to Miss Reno in May 2000, accused the FBI of mishandling the Lee spy case, saying the bureau focused prematurely on Lee as the prime suspect in the theft of nuclear secrets, moved too slowly as the probe continued and failed to provide sufficient resources and supervision.
The 800-page document also questioned the FBI's handling of its application for an electronic-surveillance warrant, saying a Justice Department decision to decline the warrant was at the heart of an ongoing battle between the department and the FBI.
Mr. Bellows, who has declined to discuss the report, said the department should have approved the request, but that the FBI provided insufficient information to justify issuing the search warrant.
According to the Bellows report, Mr. Freeh understood the implications of the CIA assessment in the Lee case, based on notes the director made on the document itself, but did not ensure that his subordinates understood the significance.
"This [CIA] report could have and should have caused the FBI to re-examine … the entire Wen Ho Lee investigation," Mr. Bellows wrote, adding that it took three more years before a reassessment was done.
The CIA assessment, first reported by the Associated Press, has not been made public. Justice Department officials have said the document, along with other material in the Bellows report, contain classified information or sensitive investigative information. The assessment had been prepared at the request of President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger.
Law enforcement authorities confirmed that the assessment shows Mr. Freeh told Energy Department officials in 1997 they should withdraw Lee's security clearance as a scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico. The report said Mr. Freeh suspected the veteran scientist of being a spy, but the Energy Department failed to heed the advice.
Lee was fired in March 1999 from his job as a computer scientist at Los Alamos with access to secrets about the W-88 warhead, the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal.
Lee pleaded guilty in September 2000 to one of 59 felony counts charged in a December 1999 indictment — the illegal transfer of secret data from classified computers at Los Alamos to a computer at a location he knew was unsecured. He never was charged with spying.
Held in solitary confinement for nine months, Lee was released after his guilty plea by U.S. District Judge James Parker, who apologized to the former scientist for his confinement and criticized the U.S. government for "embarrassing our entire nation" with the spying-for-China accusations.


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