U.S. District Judge James A. Parker had ordered Janet Reno and
federal prosecutors to disclose by Wednesday, July 5, which country they
intend to prove that former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was spying
for. She has apparently not done that and it is not inconceivable that
by the time you read this column federal prosecutors will have dropped
all charges against Wen Ho Lee rather than comply with the judge's
How could that be? Why didn't Janet Reno's Department of Justice
immediately reply to Judge Parker that they will prove Wen Ho Lee is,
and has been for decades, a "spy," a "mole," a "sleeper," an espionage
agent for the People's Republic of China? Thereby hangs a tale.
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When the FBI first sought, in 1997, permission to wiretap Wen Ho Lee,
a U.S. naturalized citizen, they believed a document supplied them by a
PRC "defector" was genuine, and that a handwritten piece of paper stuck
inside the PRC document was "evidence" that the PRC had somehow
acquired secret design information on the W-88, the warhead contained in
the U.S. Navy's Mark 5 Reentry Vehicle.
Suspicion immediately focused on Wen Ho Lee -- even though he was
born in Taiwan, not the PRC -- who had worked on the design of the
"primary" used in the W-88. However, the attorney general rejected the
1997 request by the FBI to wiretap Wen Ho Lee. It takes quite a bit
more than suspicion to justify a wiretap on a U.S. citizen.
So, in mid-1998, Wen Ho Lee -- who is reported to have had for almost
20 years Department of Energy-approved consulting agreements with
Taiwanese nuclear research centers -- was allowed to give a series of
lectures there. Upon his return late in 1998, Wen Ho underwent the
customary "debriefing," whereby DOE intelligence officials assure
themselves that no restricted data has been divulged to unauthorized
persons. Wen Ho reportedly assured them that none had.
Meanwhile, the Cox Committee -- which had been investigating
commercial transfers of U.S. missile and satellite technology to the PRC
-- had been informed "in camera" about the PRC document, the suspicion
that Wen Ho Lee had been the source of the W-88 leak and the rejection
by Janet Reno of the FBI request for a wiretap.
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The Cox Committee immediately incorporated in its report the charge
that the PRC had infiltrated all the U.S. nuclear labs decades ago, and
that over time, had stolen "classified information" on every currently
deployed U.S. thermonuclear weapon, including the W-88. The Cox
Committee filed its "Top Secret" report on Jan. 3, 1999, and much of it,
including Wen Ho Lee's name and what he was suspected of doing, began to
leak out immediately. In March, DOE Secretary Richardson gave in to
congressional demands that the PRC spy Wen Ho Lee be summarily fired.
While this was going on, the president's Foreign Intelligence
Advisory Board and, independently, an intelligence community panel of
experts had been examining the evidence presented to the Cox Committee.
They concluded that the Cox Committee had jumped to unwarranted
conclusions, in general, and in the Wen Ho Lee W-88 case, in
particular. Contemporaneous news accounts revealed that the secret
information cited by the Cox Committee supposed to have been obtained by
the PRC about the DOE supplied W-88 was actually information about the
U.S. Navy's Mark 5 into which the W-88 fits, and that the information
contained in the PRC document was wrong. So Wen Ho was off the hook for
the W-88 leak, which had never occurred in the first place.
Meanwhile, the FBI had searched Wen Ho Lee's home and discovered
notes in Chinese, listing the contents of seven to 10 computer back-up
tapes. The tapes, themselves, have never been found, but once the list
had been translated into English, it was discovered to be a list of
about 100 of the "legacy" files resident on the secure computer network
in X-Division where Wen Ho formerly worked. The Wen Ho Lee notes also
reportedly contained instructions, in Chinese, on how to download those
files from the secure X-Division network. Apparently Wen Ho Lee had
downloaded most of those files in 1993 after he had been told that he
might be laid off -- as many of his colleagues and his wife actually
were -- and the rest in 1997 shortly before going to Taiwan to present
his lectures to the Taiwanese nuclear research centers.
So, when Janet Reno was hauled before the Senate Government Affairs
Committee last year to explain "in camera" why she had rejected the 1997
request for a wiretap on Wen Ho Lee, and why she had not yet indicted
him as a PRC spy, she is reported to have said that it was not yet clear
to her who Wen Ho Lee might have been spying for.
Now it is a year later, Wen Ho Lee has been in solitary confinement
for months and hundreds of FBI agents have been literally combing the
countryside, even leaping out from behind trees to question firefighters
trying to put out the blaze that recently destroyed many houses in Wen
Ho's neighborhood. And Judge Parker has ordered Janet Reno to tell him
which country she intends to prove Wen Ho Lee was spying for. She has
three choices: 1) tell the judge it was the PRC to please congressional
PRC haters, and then have Wen Ho's defense team sandbag her; 2) tell the
Judge it was Taiwan and infuriate both the PRC haters and the supporters
of Chiang's return to the Mainland; or 3) punt. It appears as of this
writing that she has punted.