TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP
TITLE=THE WEN HO LEE CASE CRUMBLES
/// EDS: REISSUING 6-11996 TO SHOW LEE HAS BEEN
INTRO: The United States government has suffered an
embarrassment in its investigation into the loss of
top-secret nuclear weapons information at the Los
Alamos, New Mexico, National Laboratory.
The man accused of mishandling and losing classified
information on both U-S and foreign nuclear weapons,
Wen Ho Lee, has been charged with only one, relatively
minor crime. He has pleaded guilty to a single count
of mishandling classified information and released
from jail after being held for more than nine months.
Many U-S papers are furious at the outcome. Some feel
Mr. Lee was singled out as a government scapegoat
because of his Chinese ethnicity. They feel the
Federal Bureau of Investigation mishandled the probe,
and exaggerated Mr. Lee's potential offences.
Others say the bungled investigation now leaves many
unanswered questions about how much material is really
missing, how important it is, and did the Chinese
government really get any. They fear these questions
will never be adequately answered.
For a sample of editorial comment on the case, we turn
to _____________ and today's U-S Opinion Roundup.
TEXT: In a plea bargain, the Taiwan-born nuclear
scientist is agreeing to plead guilty to a single
relatively minor charge of transferring data from a
secure to an unsecure computer within the facility.
In return, the government drops an extensive case
against him that strongly hinted at one point, that he
was a Chinese spy.
The New York Times now says there is a need for an
investigation of the investigation.
VOICE: The criminal investigation and prosecution of
... [Mr.] Lee, which largely collapsed last weekend
... must be reviewed by an independent examiner to
determine if racial profiling or other unfair tactics
were used by the government. ... The remaining count
[of the original indictment] does not indicate any
intent to harm the United States or assist a foreign
nation, the central claim the government initially
sought to prove.
This would be a stunning turnabout for government
officials who previously insisted that the downloaded
data contained the "crown jewels" of America's nuclear
arsenal that could change the global balance of power
if transferred to a hostile nation. ... As the case
came unglued [Ed's: essentially "fell apart"] under
the prodding of Judge James ... Parker, evidence has
mounted that Mr. Lee was singled out because of his
Chinese ancestry. ... President Clinton should
appoint a politically independent person of national
standing to review the entire case.
TEXT: In Georgia, The Savannah Morning News says
VOICE: Much of the case against Mr. Lee rested
on the testimony of one F-B-I
counterintelligence agent, Robert Messemer,
whose stories about the scientist's supposed
shady activities turned out to be flawed or
flat-out untrue. There was more than a whiff of
smoke surrounding Mr. Lee - he had been under
suspicion for over a decade. But the government
could never produce the fire.
TEXT: In Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer says
the government owes Mr. Lee an apology and adds that
Congress should investigate the whole episode.
Equally disturbed is The Saint Louis [Missouri] Post-
VOICE: The investigation of ...[Mr.] Lee began
with reports that [he] ... was a spy for China
...[whom] prosecutors said ... had stolen the
"crown jewels" of America's nuclear weapons
secrets. ... Now ... It has turned out that
there was no evidence ... Mr. Lee was a spy.
... It is hard to see the plea bargain as
anything but a government surrender to the
reality that its case has deteriorated.
TEXT: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette grumbles that the
case has left a lot of unanswered questions, while The
Honolulu [Hawaii] Star-Bulletin scoffs that Blunders
led to [the] release... And in San Francisco, The
Examiner complains that: seldom has an agreement to
settle criminal charges been more unsatisfying.
TEXT: In Boston, The Christian Science Monitor calls
what happened a - Rush to Judgment on [Mr.] Lee.
VOICE: For nine-months, Wen Ho Lee was kept
alone in a jail cell for 23-hours a day. His
feet and hands were shackled. F-B-I agents
closely watched once-a-week visits from his wife
and children. Was this former government
nuclear scientist a spy? Did he, as federal
prosecutors claimed, steal the "crown jewels" of
American atomic secrets to "secure an advantage
to a foreign nation?" No, it turns out. And
now, federal officials have plenty to answer
for. ... Too many questions remain to let this
case slide into history. The impact on Asian-
Americans and government science is too great.
Any bungling by the F-B-I, Justice Department,
and Energy Department must be aired.
TEXT: Another common theme it that there were serious
security breaches at Los Alamos, and that because Mr.
Lee's investigation was mishandled, the true extent of
the security breaches involving others, may never be
Under a headline reading: "Justice [Department]
bungles again," The Augusta [Georgia] Chronicle
VOICE: The government's case was evidently
pretty shaky. But there is little doubt Wen Ho
Lee had moved classified material from a
classified computer to an unclassified computer,
and there is still a serious question as to
whether tapes are still missing, or have been
destroyed, as he claims. ... The fact is that
[Mr.] Lee was taking home an awful lot of
sensitive information, and had no credible
rationale for doing so. It was a clear security
TEXT: The San Francisco Chronicle calls the affair:
"A Clumsy Spy Hunt..." and adds:
VOICE: With an embarrassing fizzle, the federal
government's case against nuclear weapons
researcher Wen Ho Lee is about to end up as a
walk-away plea bargain. The case, which drew
ridicule from the start, had melted under legal
and scientific scrutiny. Questions about [Mr.]
Lee's conduct may remain for some. But for many
more, there are bigger mysteries. Was this case
based on hard e evidence or political pressure
to find a fall guy [Editors: "victim"] for past
security lapses? How safe are American weapons
from spying? Was racial profiling used to
isolate [Mr.] Lee as a suspect?
TEXT: The Boston Globe says that Mr. Lee deserved to
be fired for negligently downloading classified
material to an unsecure computer, but adds:
VOICE: ... it now seems plain that ... [Mr.]
Lee was made to suffer inordinately for the
government's incompetence and for a bureaucratic
effort to cover up its own bungling.
TEXT: We give today's last word to the Houston
Chronicle which sums up its view, in the editorial
headline: "Crown Jewels?: Wen Ho Lee case is a
On that disquieting note, we conclude this sampling of
editorial comment on the case of the nuclear scientist
Wen Ho Lee.
13-Sep-2000 17:00 PM EDT (13-Sep-2000 2100 UTC)
Source: Voice of America