Asian Air 



(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 05:59:54 PM)

he Wen Ho Lee case poses a dilemma in Asian American minds. If Lee deliberately helped China steal classified weapons technology, one could hardly complain that he now faces 59 counts of mishandling classified information. But if Lee is having the book thrown at him -- with the possibility of a life sentence -- for commonplace security breaches only because his ethnicity had already made him the focus of a failed spying investigation, the prosecution triggers fears of a new wave of anti-Asian hysteria akin to the internment of 78,000 innocent Japanese Americans during World War II.
     The so-called Chinese spying scandal exploded into the American consciousness in mid March heralded by media sensationalism. But it soon appeared that the allegations against China were founded on more conjecture than facts, especially with regard to any involvement by Wen Ho Lee.
     Wen Ho Lee, 59, was born in the southern Taiwanese city of Pintung and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He began working for the U.S. government in 1979. In the mid 80s he was assigned to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a nuclear-weapons research facility located in New Mexico. By the time the spying investigation was launched by the Energy Department, Lee was working in the deep-black X Division producing code for a parallel-processing supercomputer used to help design advanced nuclear warheads. He was also responsible for regularly updating the "legacy codes", the backbone data relating to U.S. nuclear warhead design and testing.
     His wife Sylvia Lee was known to have injected herself into official gatherings for visiting delegations of Chinese scientists. She received an invitation to present a paper at a Beijing conference on parallel processing though her official title was secretary. Her husband, the real expert, secured authorization to join her on the trip which involved a stopover in Hong Kong. While in Beijing Wen Ho Lee was approached by Chinese agents, but he rebuffed their overtures, Lee told agents during questioning in February of 1999.
     Suspicion of espionage was first aroused in 1995 after U.S. experts analyzed data on Chinese nuclear tests conducted between 1990 and 1995. They saw reason to believe the new Chinese devices were constructed along a design similar to that of the W-88, the most advanced miniature warhead in the U.S. arsenal. Until then the U.S. had assumed China to be a full generation behind in nuclear warhead technology and incapable of producing warheads small enough for use in missiles carrying multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV). That suspicion led to the investigation, code-named "Kindred Spirit" launched in February of 1996.
     After FBI and Energy Department investigators examined travel records and other data on Los Alamos employees occupying sensitive positions, they identified five suspects. They soon zeroed in on Lee. In June of 1996 the FBI opened a full-fledged secret investigation, but decided to keep Lee in place in hopes of catching him in the act of spying. By September of 1997 FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded it was unlikely that evidence would be produced to justify criminal prosecution and informed Energy Department officials that there was no further reason to keep Lee in place. The Energy Department took no immediate steps to move Lee out of his sensitive position.
     At around that time the Clinton Administration cerfified China as a non-nuclear-proliferation nation, thereby allowing the lifting of the 12-year ban that had kept U.S. companies from selling nuclear power-plant equipment to China, a market that could be worth $50-$70 billion over the next decade. Some in Congress are now blaming Clinton for not having called their attention to the suspected theft of nuclear secrets prior to the certification.
     As the Kindred Spirit investigation was winding up in 1997, Sylvia left her job at Los Alamos and became a full-time homemaker. She was never questioned in connection with the investigation.
     By late 1998 the Clinton administration began feeling Congressional heat for having kept Lee in place despite suspicion of espionage. The investigation was re-opened and agents were sent in December of 1998 to give Lee a lie-detector test. The results were inconclusive. In February of 1999 they gave Lee a second test which found him "deceptive". Lee was then moved out to a less sensitive area of the Lab.
     Agents began questioning Lee on Friday, March 12. He submitted to the questioning without asking to be represented by an attorney. After three days of questioning by FBI agents -- an ordeal beyond the experience of most people -- on Monday morning Lee was ordered fired from his position by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. As to why Lee was fired at that point, the government is hazy, even evasive. One statement claims Lee was fired because he "stonewalled" investigators. Another says it was because Lee admitted to having been approached by Chinese agents during his 1988 trip but had failed to report the incident sooner.
     In yet another baffling statement, Secretary Richardson said Lee had been "co-operative with investigators, but he denied ever having passed classified information."
     The case lurched ahead again on April 10 when investigators secured a court order and conducted a six-hour search of Lee's home. The search came as a surprise in light of the fact that investigators had earlier admitted that they had no grounds for charging Lee with spying and had been unable even to make a sufficient showing to obtain even an order permitting a wiretap of Lee's office and home phones. The fact that the raid coincided with the U.S. visit of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji raised suspicions that it had been orchestrated by elements of the U.S. government known to be hostile to the Clinton administration.
     The case against Lee took a new twist in late April when the focus shifted to the allegation that in 1994 and 1995 Lee downloaded from the highly classified mainframe network millions of lines of computer code pertaining to U.S. nuclear warheads and saved it into his password-protected but non-classified personal computer. As an added security measure, said Lee, the transferred files were kept in folders bearing names that differed from their original names.
     No evidence was produced to suggest that the downloaded files were actually accessed by the Chinese or any outside agents. But the investigators seemed to suggest that the mere transfers between the classified and non-classified areas of the Los Alamos computer network was tantamount to transferring it to the Chinese.
     Anyone who has worked with computer files could understand possible innocent reasons for the downloading of the classified files into a more accessible part of the system. Since it was his job to update the archival "legacy" codes for five nuclear warheads, Lee needed to access those codes repeatedly and on a more or less constant basis. Rather than working on the original versions kept within the classified sections -- which would have entailed keeping open a connection to the secure areas -- he may have decided it was safer and more convenient to work on downloaded copies. Placing them in deliberately misnamed folders could have been an effort to disguise them for security reasons during the time he was working on them.
     These downloaded files were discovered only in April, weeks after Lee was fired. The fact that Lee had kept them there since 1995 strongly suggests their downloading had been for innocent reasons. Else, he could have covered his tracks simply by erasing them after they were -- inferentially -- accessed by the Chinese.
     After enduring two months of spying allegations in stoic silence, on May 6 Lee made his first effort at rebutting the allegations against him by issuing a 6-page statement through his attorney.
     The statement alleges that both Lee and wife Sylvia had assisted the FBI in espionage investigations for the past 17 years and suggested that he ended up on a list of suspects compiled in 1996 only because investigators mistook his communications with Chinese agents and other Chinese American scientists at the FBI's behest for possible espionage activity.
     "Dr. Lee will not be a scapegoat for alleged security problems at our country's nuclear laboratories," the statement declared. Lee is a loyal U.S. citizen and a dedicated weapons scientist who never provided "any classified information whatsoever to any representative of mainland China", it continued.
     The statement also asserted that Lee "took steps" to safeguard the classified files he had downloaded into his personal computer. "Upon receipt of proper security clearances, Dr. Lee's lawyers will present specific evidence of his innocence confidentially to the United States Attorney's Office," said the statement. "We are confident that federal investigators will also conclude that no third party could have or did access his protected computer files."
     Lee's protestations of innocence seemed to receive some vindication in mid August when the Energy Department's inspector general issued a report throwing into question the rationale for focusing the investigation on Lee. Former Los Alamos counter-intelligence chief Robert S Vrooman added to the questions about the validity of the focus on Lee, saying, "I've had a distinguished career and I'm not going to go down in history as the guy who screwed up this case, because I wasn't. This case was screwed up because there was nothing there -- it was built on thin air." Vrooman added that the Department of Energy focused on Lee spuriously after a cursory check of only Los Alamos and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory without considering 548 other sites, including various weapons fabricators, from which W-88 nuclear warhead data could have been leaked.
     Vrooman further added that Lee was chosen as the primary target based on his ancestry and a trip to China despite the fact that 13 caucasian scientists had also paid the same visit to the same institute and same Chinese scientists. "It can be said at this time that Mr. Lee's ethnicity was a major factor," said Vrooman.
     The government's contention that the Chinese had obtained W-88 miniature nuclear warheads for multiple-reentry vehicles by spying was based solely on the fact that a known Chinese agent had data about the U.S. W-88 warhead's external dimensions and explosive yields, contended Vrooman.
     Adding to the perception that the case against Lee was rapidly crumbling, a week later Notra Trulock, the man who had initiated the so-called Chinese nuclear-spying investigation, quit his DOE intelligence post. Trulock had been the DOE's director of intelligence until being demoted in 1998. He had apparently tried to build an espionage case in hopes of having his departmental budget enlarged. Trulock denied having pointed the finger at Lee. Lee was only one of 12 scientists he had identified as possible espionage suspects, he said. Upon resigning Trulock immediately began working at TRW, a defense-contractor.
     The case against Lee appeared to have become dormant until December 10 when Lee was arrested outside his home and charged with the 59 counts on the indictment returned by a Federal grand jury-- 29 counts of removing and tampering with restricted data, 10 counts of retaining restricted data, 10 counts of gathering national defense information and 10 counts of unlawful retention of national defense information. The magistrate found Lee to be a flight risk and denied bail, requiring him to spend the weekend in prison. On December 13 he was arraigned at the District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
     Various Asian American groups, including the Asian American Manufacturers Association and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, have begun efforts to ensure that Lee will not be the victim of unfair treatment based on his Chinese ancestry even as they concede that they don't know whether he's guilty of wrongdoing. The concerns over fairness is based in part on the fact that others who have committed similar security breaches have never been charged have not had to face criminal charges.

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Wen Ho Lee is definitely a spy. It's known that he copied sensitive nuclear information and that he has close ties to the Chinese government. Isn't it convenient how he found the disks that had "fallen" behind some equipment. They should have prosecuted the bastard and shot him for treason.
Asian AMERICAN!    Friday, November 16, 2001 at 00:19:44 (PST)
of course the ones who set up whlee is not stupid. They know that the media think it's not because his race, other non-asian also got prosecuted for allegedly spying. But in real story, it's racial. The case always made "it's not racial thing", but it is !
ChnMa    Tuesday, September 25, 2001 at 15:11:16 (PDT)
For everyone's reference, I'll quote this excerpt and remind everyone that Peter Lee was a convicted spy for China while working for Lawrence Livermore Labs. So Wen Ho Lee wasn't the first nor the last Chinese American involved in spy allegations and investigations.
"Intelligence officials also said China warned the Clinton administration not to deal harshly with an earlier Chinese spy, Peter Lee, and that senior Clinton administration officials may have intervened to quietly derail the Wen Ho Lee case."
Larry Wortzel, a former Pentagon intelligence official and specialist on Chinese spying, said the main question left over from the Lee case is the missing tapes.
"What was he downloading that information for?" said Mr. Wortzel, now with the Heritage Foundation.

You only know part of the story    Saturday, August 18, 2001 at 17:32:45 (PDT)