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Associated Press
July 27, 2000

Former lab security chief disputes
FBI agent's statement in scientist case

RICHARD BENKE, Associated Press Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A dispute has arisen between an FBI agent and a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory security chief over an allegation that scientist Wen Ho Lee likely aided China's nuclear program.

In a sworn statement, the FBI's Robert Messemer contends Robert Vrooman told him in April 1999 "that in his opinion Lee probably had assisted the (People's Republic of China) nuclear weapons program by fixing the Chinese hydrocodes."

Vrooman denies making that comment. "Messemer has trouble accurately reporting what he hears," Vrooman told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Computer hydrocodes are used to model how materials might behave during a nuclear explosion, said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Messemer's statement was filed by the government this month in federal court in an effort to debunk defense allegations that Lee, born in Taiwan, was singled out for prosecution because of his Chinese ancestry. Lee faces trial on 59 counts alleging he downloaded restricted nuclear weapons codes from secure to unsecure computers and to computer tapes.

Vrooman, who retired last August, said he couldn't know what Lee did during trips overseas in 1986 and 1988 -- "I was not with him in China."

The allegation involving hydrocodes is potentially more serious than the unsecure transfers Lee now is accused of making, Aftergood said.

"Although this kind of computer code could have nonmilitary applications, it could also have nuclear weapons applications," he said.

Vrooman, who gave a statement last month supporting a defense motion seeking government documents on ethnic profiling, said he thinks Messemer is trying to discredit him.

Messemer declined to comment Thursday.

"Racial profiling was a crucial component in the FBI's identifying Dr. Lee as a suspect," Vrooman said in the June document. "Caucasians with the same background and foreign contacts as Dr. Lee were ignored."

In its response, the government asked a federal judge to throw out the racial profiling allegation, contending there were similar prosecutions of people who were not ethnic Chinese.

2000 Associated Press

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