Wen Ho Lee may have been able to avoid more serious charges of injuring the U.S. and
aiding a foreign nation by pleading
guilty to one felony count of mishandling classified nuclear data, but
the former Los Alamos scientist still has a lot of explaining to do,
says the former Energy Department counterintelligence chief who
originally put Lee on a list of spy suspects.
Lee was caught downloading codes covering the entire history of the
U.S. nuclear weapons program — including valuable testing data — from
a secret lab network, and copying them onto 10 portable computer tapes.
Seven of them are still missing.
The plea deal, struck yesterday, removed the more serious charges
against Lee, now free from jail, accusing him of stealing secret nuclear
data with the intent of harming the U.S.
In exchange, Lee must now, finally, tell U.S. prosecutors and FBI
national security agents why he copied such highly sensitive
information, and what he’s done with the missing tapes.
Lee’s supporters cheered the plea bargain as vindication for the
ethnic-Chinese computer scientist. They claim it’s proof the FBI never
really had a case against him and targeted him only because of his race.
But Notra Trulock, the former head of Energy counterspying, insists
the government in fact did have a strong case — but bungled it.
“This case went to the FBI in 1996. It has been their case since that
time. They simply did not pursue it with any real vigor or conviction,”
Trulock told WorldNetDaily. “So it’s no surprise” that the Lee case fell
Chinese army intelligence stole design secrets to every nuclear
warhead deployed in the U.S. arsenal, including the prized W-88
mini-warhead developed at Los Alamos. Much of the espionage, in fact,
occurred at Los Alamos.
The U.S. intelligence community first discovered the devastating
espionage in 1995. Much of it took place at the U.S. weapons labs over
the past three decades, but mostly during the ’90s.
Trulock says it’s a “complete travesty” that, after five years on the
case, the Clinton administration has still not been able to get to the
bottom of the spying.
As for Lee, Trulock says he was not investigated just because of his
race, but because of his “track record.”
“I don’t know if Lee is guilty or not; that was for a jury to
decide,” he said. “He was on our original list (of a dozen suspects). To
not put him on (the list) would have been negligent, given his track
The national media have never fully reported the FBI’s case for
probable cause, when in 1997 it asked the Justice Department for a
warrant to electronically monitor Lee and search his computer. In an
extremely rare refusal, Attorney General Janet Reno turned the
FBI down cold — not once but twice.
As a result, Lee not only stayed on the job, but was promoted and
given access to even more secret data, allowing him the time and
opportunity to download and remove from the lab the equivalent of
400,000 pages of data.
In the FBI’s original request, Lee’s “track record” is exposed.
Agents suspected Lee had ample opportunity to leak secrets about U.S.
nuclear warheads, including the W-88, during numerous contacts that he
and his China-born wife, Sylvia, had with key Chinese officials.
The information compiled by the FBI in support of its warrant
application and presented to Reno included the following (according to a
1999 report released jointly by Sens. Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman):
- “DOE (Department of Energy) counterintelligence and weapons
experts had concluded that there was a great probability that the W-88
information had been compromised between 1984 and 1988 at the nuclear
weapons division of the Los Alamos
- “It was standard PRC (People’s Republic of China) intelligence
tradecraft to focus particularly upon targeting and recruitment of
ethnic Chinese living in foreign countries (e.g., Chinese-Americans).
- “It is common in PRC intelligence tradecraft to use academic
delegations — rather than traditional intelligence officers — to
collect information on science-related topics. It was, in fact, standard
PRC intelligence tradecraft to use scientific delegations to identify
and target scientists working at restricted United States facilities
such as LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory), since they ‘have better
access than PRC intelligence personnel to scientists and other
counterparts at the United States National Laboratories.’
- “Sylvia Lee (Wen Ho Lee’s wife and a former Los Alamos employee)
had extremely close contacts with visiting Chinese scientific
delegations. Sylvia Lee, in fact, had volunteered to act as hostess for
visiting Chinese scientific delegations at LANL when such visits first
began in 1980, and had apparently had more extensive contacts and closer
relationships with these delegations than anyone else at the laboratory.
On one occasion, moreover, Wen Ho Lee had himself aggressively sought
involvement with a visiting Chinese scientific delegation, insisting
upon acting as an interpreter for the group despite his inability to
perform this function very effectively.
- “Sylvia Lee was involuntarily terminated at LANL during a
reduction-in-force in 1995. Her personnel file indicated incidents of
security violations and threats she allegedly made against co-workers.
- “In 1986, Wen Ho Lee and his wife traveled to China on LANL
business to deliver a paper on nuclear weapons-related science to a
symposium in Beijing. He visited the Chinese laboratory — the Institute
for Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics (IAPCM) — that
designs the PRC’s nuclear weapons.
- “The Lees visited the PRC — the IAPCM — on LANL business again
- “It was standard PRC intelligence tradecraft, when targeting
ethnic Chinese living overseas, to encourage travel to the ‘homeland’ –
particularly where visits to ancestral villages and/or old family
members could be arranged — as a way of trying to dilute loyalty to
other countries and encouraging solidarity with the authorities in
- “The Lees took vacation time to travel elsewhere in China during
their two trips to China in 1986 and 1988.
- “The FBI also learned of the Lees’ purchase of unknown goods or
services from a travel agent in Hong Kong while on a trip to that colony
and to Taiwan in 1992. FBI agents speculated that this payment might
have been for tickets for an unreported side trip across the border into
- “Though Wen Ho Lee had visited IAPCM in both 1986 and 1988 and
had filed ‘contact reports’ claiming to recount all of the Chinese
scientists he met there, he had failed to disclose certain information
that the FBI deemed significant.
- “Wen Ho Lee worked on specialized computer codes at Los Alamos –
so-called ‘legacy codes’ related to nuclear testing data — that were a
particular target for Chinese intelligence.
- “The FBI learned that during a visit to Los Alamos by scientists
from IAPCM, Lee had discussed certain unclassified (but weapons-related)
computer codes with the Chinese delegation. It was reported that Lee had
helped the Chinese scientists with their codes by providing software and
calculations relating to hydrodynamics.
- “In 1997, Lee had requested permission to hire a graduate
student, a Chinese national to help him with work on ‘Lagrangian codes’
at LANL. When the FBI evaluated this request, investigators were told by
laboratory officials that there was no such thing as an unclassified
Lagrangian code, which describes certain hydrodynamic processes and are
used to model some aspects of nuclear weapons testing.
- “In 1984, the FBI questioned Wen Ho Lee about his 1982 contact
with a U.S. scientist at another DOE nuclear weapons laboratory who was
- “When questioned about this contact Lee gave deceptive answers.
After offering further explanations, Lee took a polygraph, claiming that
he had been concerned only with this other scientist’s alleged passing
of unclassified information to a foreign government against DOE and
Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations — something that Lee himself
admitted doing. (The FBI closed this investigation of Lee in 1984.)
- “The FBI, as noted above, had begun another investigation into
Lee in the early 1990s, before the W-88 compromise came to light. This
investigation was based upon an FBI investigative lead that could
reasonably be interpreted to indicate that Lee had provided significant
assistance to the PRC.
- “The FBI obtained a copy of a note on IAPCM letterhead dated 1987
listing three LANL reports by their laboratory publication number. On
this note, in English, was a handwritten comment to ‘Linda’ saying
‘(t)he Deputy Director of this Institute asked for)
these paper(s). His name is Dr. Zheng Shaotang. Please check if they are
unclassified and send to them. Thanks a lot. Sylvia Lee.’”
Lee’s release has also given critics of the bipartisan Cox
Commission, which investigated and exposed the Chinese espionage, more
ammunition. They reason that if the case against the allegedly lead
Chinese spy crumbled, then maybe there’s not much to the reports of
Chinese spying, either.
But Trulock isn’t swayed, arguing that it wasn’t just the Cox report
that came to such conclusions.
“Remember that the 1999 Intelligence Community Damage Assessment
declared that the Chinese had acquired nuclear weapons design
information,” he said. “Maybe these critics know something the IC