Los Alamos Figure Charged with Theft: Lee Hit with 59 Counts in Nuke Scandal

By Seper, Jerry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

Los Alamos Figure Charged with Theft: Lee Hit with 59 Counts in Nuke Scandal


Seper, Jerry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A Taiwan-born scientist at the Los Alamos weapons laboratory, a key figure in the government's Chinese espionage scandal, was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on 59 counts of illegally removing U.S. nuclear secrets from a computer.

Computer expert Wen Ho Lee was immediately arrested at his home near Los Alamos, N.M., then taken before a federal magistrate in Albuquerque, FBI spokesman Doug Beldon said.

Authorities had fired Mr. Lee in March from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory amid an FBI probe into his activities.

The indictment, sought by U.S. Attorney John Kelly, was handed up by a federal grand jury in Albuquerque.

The indictment accuses Mr. Lee, 59, of illegally acquiring and receiving restricted data; tampering with, altering and removing restricted data; and gathering national defense information. It said the scientist downloaded U.S. nuclear secrets about sophisticated weapons and test results from a secured computer at the Los Alamos facility and stored that data on computer tapes that were taken from the site.

The indictment does not accuse Mr. Lee of espionage. Law enforcement authorities said there was insufficient evidence to show he turned over any information to China, which has steadfastly denied stealing U.S. secrets.

Mr. Lee, who faces life in prison if convicted, has denied any wrongdoing.

In a rare statement earlier this year to reporters, he said he transferred computer files only as a backup to guard against a computer crash.

"We are severely disappointed that the Justice Department has taken the precipitous act of seeking an indictment against Dr. Lee," said a statement from his lawyer quoted by Reuters News Agency. "We look forward to proving Dr. Lee's innocence and his being exonerated of all charges that are being brought against him."

Mr. Lee's lawyers also said the physicist had offered to take a lie-detector test. The statement said they were "deeply troubled" by the prosecution seeking to hold Mr. Lee without bail.

Suspected security violations by Mr. Lee and others at Los Alamos have been the focus of the grand jury investigation in Albuquerque for several months. He has been under investigation by the FBI since 1996.

The decision to seek an indictment in the probe was made earlier this week by Attorney General Janet Reno, after a Saturday meeting at the White House with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, CIA Director George J. Tenet and Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser.

U.S. intelligence officials first learned of an apparent security breach at the Los Alamos facility in 1995.

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Los Alamos Figure Charged with Theft: Lee Hit with 59 Counts in Nuke Scandal
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