Chairman Shelby and members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Director Freeh and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to tell you what we did in the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee and why we did it.
Statement of Attorney General Janet Reno
Oversight on the Wen Ho Lee Case
before a joint hearing of
the Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
September 26, 2000
At the outset, I must caution that we're limited in what we can discuss here. The government has secured a commitment from Dr. Lee to cooperate and to submit to a comprehensive debriefing in the next few weeks and further inquiries for some months after that. We do not -- and I am sure you do not -- want to do or say anything here that would interfere with the debriefing.
Some issues may also require that we go into closed session. And Chairman Shelby, I appreciate that you have made provision for a closed hearing later today to do just that.
As attorney general and as director of the FBI, Director Freeh and I share together an awesome responsibility to protect the national security of this nation, but at the same time to protect the Constitution and the rights of all Americans.
These cases are difficult. Without full access to the facts, and given some of the rumors and speculations that have been reported in the press, I can understand that questions arise. But I hope that by the end of our session today, you will agree that our actions made sense, were reasonable, and were correct.
Dr. Lee is no hero. He is not an absent-minded professor. He is a felon. He committed a very serious, calculated crime, and he pled guilty to it. He abused the trust of the American people by putting at risk some of our core national security secrets.
He had one of the highest security clearance levels possible, granting him access to the most sensitive of nuclear weapons information. He had worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 20 years. He had access to the Los Alamos computer system that was designed precisely to be secure against unauthorized intrusions.
What was on that secure system? Nuclear weapon design and testing data that is, in effect, the library of blueprints of most of the United States' nuclear weapons designs, designs that are the fruit of an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Dr. Lee systematically, deliberately moved nuclear weapons data that was not even related to the work he was doing.
He moved it from the system where it was safe and secure to a vulnerable computer in the Los Alamos system that any hacker or foreign government could penetrate. Dr. Lee did so by betraying the trust that had been placed in him to protect those secrets.
The process of transferring this data took Dr. Lee a long time, nearly 40 hours over a 70-day period. As has been pointed out, it involved the equivalent of 400,000 pages. Stacked up, that's a 13- story building. He left this information that is so vital to our national security on that unsecure computer not for hours or days or even months; he left it there for years. He knew that it was classified. He knew that what he was doing was wrong. He moved files in such a way as to defeat security measures he knew were in place.
He went further. He copied the information from the unsecure computer onto 10 portable tapes. Three were recovered by the FBI; seven are missing. What's more, he made copies of the portable tapes, and those copies are also missing.
When Dr. Lee found out he was being investigated, he took steps to cover up his actions. After his access was revoked to the part of the lab where the secure computer resided, he tried over and over again to get in, including at 3:30 a.m. on one Christmas Eve.
Despite what you read in the papers, until he entered the plea agreement, Dr. Lee never had said he would admit his wrongdoing, plead guilty to a felony and tell us what he did with the tapes. The plea agreement entered into by the government with Dr. Lee is our best chance to find out what happened to the computer tapes containing some of the nation's most important nuclear designs and testing information. That is why our debriefing of Dr. Lee is our first order of business.
Now, Dr. Lee has a powerful incentive to tell us what happened to the tapes and to do so truthfully. The plea agreement requires that he submit to questioning under oath and through a polygraph. It requires that he respond to the government's inquiries for a year thereafter. And during that year, he cannot leave the United States without permission from the mediator judge. If he does not tell the truth or if he breaches the plea agreement, he can be prosecuted.
The FBI and the staff of Los Alamos National Laboratory did excellent forensic work in this case. Their computer forensics found out what Dr. Lee did and what steps he took to avoid detection. Without that high-caliber and complicated investigative work, we would not even have known that Dr. Lee had illegally taken the files, because he was so careful to hide his actions. I commend all involved in this excellent computer forensic work. Without that work, we would not be in the position we are today to take steps to protect these secrets to the extent that it is possible now.
One of the things I want to assure the American people -- and as you pointed out, Senator Bryan, I asked for a review of this matter. Perhaps we can address that later in closed session. But I think that report dealing with how Dr. Lee came to our attention indicates quite clearly that there was no efforts on anybody's part to target him because of his race.
Finally, I would like to talk about why we charged Dr. Lee as we did. Criticism of the department for allowing Dr. Lee to plead to only one of 59 counts has been made. But each of these counts was very serious. They involved charges involving four statutes. The 59 counts represent a separate violation of federal law based on the downloading of each of 19 separate computer files and on a the separate downloading and onto each of the 10 tapes. Allowing a defendant to plead to one charge at the end of the day in a situation like this would not be uncommon.
In our joint written statement, we explain why Dr. Lee was charged, why he was detained, why he reached a plea agreement. Director Freeh will give that statement, but it represents the views of both of us. We believe that it is important that the public understand these questions.
We want to do everything we can, as I have previously announced, to make sure that we take steps to make available to you and to the American public all the information possible under the law, and consistent with national security, so that people will understand what actions were taken, why they were taken, and so that they can have confidence in the process.
I thank you for the opportunity to appear.