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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
May-August 2001
Volume 54, Number 3-4
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
The Central Deception of National Missile Defense
If Not NMD, Then What?
Sharing Missile Defense
US Government Fails to Lead on Small Arms
US Policy and the BWC Protocol
Intelligence Oversight Faces New Obstacles
Controversy over Wen Ho Lee Persists
FAS Status Report

Controversy over Wen Ho Lee Persists

By Steven Aftergood

It has been nearly a year since former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, once suspected of espionage, was freed from jail with an apology from the judge after he pled guilty to illegally downloading classified information. But the handling of his case continues to be a source of controversy and confusion.

Most recently, the GAO reported that testimony presented to Congress by FBI Assistant Director Neil Gallagher about the Lee case was "inaccurate and misleading."

Mr. Gallagher assured Congress in 1999 that the FBI had full confidence in the initial Inquiry which asserted that design secrets of the W-88 nuclear warhead had been compromised at Los Alamos and which identified Wen Ho Lee as an espionage suspect.

But such confidence was unwarranted. The GAO found that Mr. Gallagher "should have known that the FBI's Albuquerque Field Office had concerns about the ... Inquiry."

Specifically, a January 1999 communication from the FBI Albuquerque Field Office spelled out the defects in the Inquiry that launched the Lee prosecution and was provided to Mr. Gallagher. That document remains classified.

The text of the new GAO review may be found at http://www.fas.org/irp/ops/ci/whl_gao.html.

In response to the assessment, Mr. Gallagher lashed out at the GAO for suggesting that he may have "intentionally" misled Congress, writing "At no time during my 28-year career in the FBI have I ever misled or intentionally misinformed a member of Congress."

In a June 27 letter released by the FBI, Mr. Gallagher acknowledged that when he testified before Congress in June 1999 he was not aware of the defects in the Administrative Inquiry that initially named Lee as a possible espionage suspect. But in his defense, he notes that he wrote to Congress in November 1999 to correct the record after he learned that the basis for the Lee investigation was disputed. See Mr. Gallegher's rebuttal to the GAO review at http://www.fas.org/irp/ops/ci/whl_gall.html.

But that's not the end of it. Former DOE counterintelligence official Notra Trulock, who played a key role in shaping congressional and media perceptions of the case, criticized Mr. Gallagher's letter. He spoke of a "web of deceit the FBI has spun to cover up its own mistakes and blunders in the Wen Ho Lee debacle.... Gallagher is distorting the record and attempting to mislead both the GAO and the Congress. " See Mr. Trulock's letter to the GAO at http://www.fas.org/irp/ops/ci/whl_gao_trulock.html.

Several other official assessments of the Wen Ho Lee case remain outstanding. The massive Justice Department report conducted by federal prosecutor Randy Bellows on the investigation up through March 1999 has been declassified and is awaiting final processing for public release. It is said to provide a withering account of the FBI's conduct of the case.

An FBI Office of Professional Responsibility report is being withheld in its entirety as "law enforcement information," even though it was initiated, in part, to respond to public concerns about the conduct of the case.

A separate Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility review, which commenced nearly a year ago, is still "in its preliminary stages," and "it would be premature to estimate when it will be completed," according to Justice official Robert B. Lyon, Jr.

And not least, Wen Ho Lee himself has completed a memoir of his experience.

His 256 page manuscript, entitled "My Country Versus Me," is to be published by Hyperion Books later this year. It is now under review by Department of Energy officials to ensure that it contains no classified information.

In a recent floor statement, Senator Arlen Specter criticized the executive branch for failing to cooperate with congressional oversight of the Lee case. He said that the treatment of Dr. Lee as "public enemy No. 1, when he was put in manacles and solitary confinement...had all the earmarks of an effort at the top of the Justice Department and FBI to coerce a guilty plea."