Janet Reno and Louis Freeh — recently linked in unholy matrimony by
Judge James Parker and promptly thrown overboard by President Clinton —
were furiously treading water before a Senate Intelligence Committee
this week. Reno and Freeh were attempting to justify their extension of
what ought to have been a humiliating — to them — plea bargain to Wen
Of course, Clinton administration officials have never charged — on
the record — Wen Ho Lee with being a spy. They claim that the Cox
Committee and various media elite must have misunderstood their earlier
sworn testimony about his giving the People’s Republic of China the
secret of the W-88 back during the Reagan administration. They claim,
now, they only suspected him, then, of being a spy. That’s why they say
they took him off the W-88 project and assigned him to the Los Alamos
archiving project back in 1993.
But, if you listened carefully to Reno and Freeh, they were
essentially charging that Wen Ho Lee is, after all, the most
accomplished spy in all recorded history. Reno and Freeh claim that Wen
Ho Lee, all by himself, culled the zillions of pages of Los Alamos
secret weapons documents, representing more than 50 years of computer
calculations and nuclear weapons tests, and picked out from that morass,
all by himself, the nuke “crown jewels.”
There are fewer than a dozen men, most of them now retired, who could
ever have done that, and Wen Ho Lee — contrary to what Reno and Freeh
now claim — is not one of them.
Why not? Well, Wen Ho Lee is a mechanical engineer — not a nuclear
physicist — who wrote and updated the small sections of monstrous
computer codes that modeled the effect of high explosives on materials
like plutonium. In a “primary,” the plutonium is compressed by high
explosives to a supercritical mass. Once the plutonium density is
supercritical, a nuclear chain reaction is initiated and you get
something like what befell Nagasaki. In a modern thermonuclear weapon
— like the W-87 — the energy released by the primary is then used to
ignite the “secondary.” The point is, that as long as he was working on
primaries, Wen Ho Lee would have had no need to know, nor would he have
known, much about thermonukes themselves.
So, how did Wen Ho Lee know what to download? Well, before Clinton
came to town, the nuclear scientists at Los Alamos and Livermore were
already concerned about fading “corporate memory.” There had been no
requirements for new nukes in almost 20 years and the number of
scientists and engineers who had actually ever designed and tested a new
nuke — who had been there, done that — was fast dwindling, through
death and retirement. The concern at the labs went up exponentially
when President Clinton announced in 1993 his intention to sign the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to never again test a nuke. To
mollify congressional and lab critics, Clinton announced his
science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program. All nuke designing and
testing would henceforth be “simulated” on computers.
The Clinton decision to never again actually test nukes made having
validated nuke design computer codes an absolute necessity. Future
designers — who could never go there or do that — would need to know
how the old-timers did it. As a part of the stewardship program, Los
Alamos and Livermore were directed to establish a “corporate memory,” a
set of “legacy files,” a Nuclear Weapons Information Base. The
establishment of NWIB was a multi-year team effort and Wen Ho Lee was
reportedly made a part of that team.
The NWIB has been characterized as a point-and-click, how-to manual
for future nuke designers. The NWIB includes, among tons of other
stuff, the actual test data used to validate or invalidate the computer
predictions of weapon performance, as well as the design and performance
codes and the parametric input packages unique to a particular nuke.
Since many of the codes were written decades ago for “supercomputers” of
a bygone era, at Los Alamos many of these ancient codes were ported —
essentially rewritten — so that they could be run on today’s desktop
computer work stations. Apparently, that is what Wen Ho Lee did on the
NWIB team — revamped ancient computer codes.
Using the NWIB is like logging on to the Internet. It has a search
engine that asks you what you want to know. Type in W-87. Up comes the
W-87 multimedia menu: tutorials, video interviews with actual designers
and testers, viewgraphs, engineering drawings, reports, test data,
pictures — everything you always wanted to know about the W-87, but
were afraid to ask. It’s all there at the click of your mouse at your
Now, of course, not everyone even on the NWIB team can gain access to
every file on the NWIB Intranet that the search engine comes up with.
Everything is compartmentalized and password protected. Only a few
people need to know it all and only those few have all the passwords.
If Wen Ho Lee wanted to access a file he had to have the password for
that file. So, the search engine could tell Wen Ho Lee what was
important to know; but it wouldn’t let him know what was in the file
unless he somehow acquired the correct password.
There was no mention at all of the NWIB at Wen Ho Lee’s bail-hearing
last December and there is no reason to suppose that Judge Parker knows
about it even yet. But, if you do know about NWIB and you know that Wen
Ho Lee was on the NWIB team, then it is fairly clear the prosecution
charged last December that what Wen Ho Lee did in 1993-94 and 1997 was
to approach people who did have the passwords for the files that the
NWIB told him were important. Apparently, his colleagues usually gave
those passwords to him.
But, you ask incredulously, why would Wen Ho Lee do such a thing?
Why would he seek access to files (and then illegally download them onto
an unclassified network) he had no need for? Why would Wen Ho Lee
establish a mini-NWIB that was accessible — in principle, via the
Internet — by weapons scientists from India, or Pakistan, or China?
Well, if you had read last year’s Prather Report you would know about the congressional prohibition in 1997
against Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore ever participating in any sort
of cooperative Stockpile Stewardship Program with the PRC.
Congressional staffers had it on good authority in 1996 that the
Clinton administration had proposed, as early as 1993, to share with the
PRC at least part of the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program. In
particular, the Clinton administration offered to help the PRC set up
its own computer-based nuke design and testing capability. Why, oh why,
would Bill Clinton and Hazel O’Leary ever even think of doing such a
thing? And surely, surely, you moan and groan, the Clinton
administration could never have intended to share the NWIB with the PRC.
But suppose Congress heard right. You might then suspect that Wen Ho
Lee was assigned to the NWIB “archiving” project precisely because he is
Chinese. (So far as we know, the Clinton administration never proposed
sharing stewardship data with Taiwan, where Wen Ho Lee was born.)
So, let’s return to the odd couple, Reno and Freeh, about to go down
for a third time before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Reno and Freeh
have just claimed that the most accomplished master spy of all time, Wen
Ho Lee, all by himself, culled the zillions of pages representing more
than 50 years of computer calculations and nuke-weapons tests and picked
out from that mess, all by himself, the nuclear “crown jewels.” But
now, dear reader, you know what Reno and Freeh hoped you’d never know.
That all NWIB team member Wen Ho Lee had to do was to log-on to the
NWIB. The NWIB search engine culls those zillions of pages for Wen Ho
Lee and lists the appropriate files on Wen Ho Lee’s computer screen.
Nothing in these columns, nor anything in the Prather Report, should
give you the idea that most nuclear scientists are anything but appalled
at what Wen Ho Lee did in accessing and downloading all those NWIB
files. Whether he did so because he wanted to further — or thwart —
President Clinton’s imbecilic plan to share NWIB info with the PRC, is
beside the point. What he did, for whatever reason, is appalling.
But so has been the treatment of Wen Ho Lee by the Clinton
administration. And so have the attempts to shift to Los Alamos and
Lawrence Livermore the blame for the Clinton-O’Leary-Greenpeace plans to
spread nuke knowledge around the world. That is appalling, too.
Unless they are complete fools — and that is a possibility — Reno,
Richardson and Freeh know only too well that Wen Ho Lee could not have,
all by himself, culled those zillions of pages of data and codes — most
of which would have been almost as incomprehensible to mechanical
engineer Lee as they would be to you — and picked out the “crown
jewels” to download. So, knowing all that, why are they now misleading
Congress the same way they misled Judge Parker? After setting him free,
why do they now insist that Wen Ho Lee is the master spy of all time?
And why have you never heard of, unless you read the Prather Report
last year, the Clinton plan to share U.S. Stockpile Stewardship
information with the PRC? Why have you never heard, until you read this
column, that if Congress hadn’t forbidden it, the Clinton administration
would have already given the PRC much of what Wen Ho Lee downloaded?
Stay tuned. This ain’t over yet.