Associated Press
February 2, 2004

Unclassified part of Wen Ho Lee report due for release

By Richard Benke

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Unclassified portions of a never-released Justice Department report on the investigation and prosecution of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee will be given to a government secrecy watchdog.

The government agreed to release the materials to Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. The report was prepared after the criminal case against Lee crumbled and he was freed in 2000 with the judge's apology.

"It's the answer to the question: What went wrong?" Aftergood said.

Aftergood said Monday he expects to see part of the report, prepared by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, by March 1.

Its release had been repeatedly rejected both by Attorney General Janet Reno's Justice Department and that of her successor, John Ashcroft.

Aftergood appealed their refusals, and Justice Department official Richard Huff responded by working out the release with the Office of Professional Responsibility. Huff wrote Aftergood on Jan. 21 that the office would send him "the releasable information contained in the unclassified portions of the report."

If Aftergood isn't satisfied with the materials, Huff invited further appeal.

Another Justice Department committee, meanwhile, will consider declassifying portions of the classified material in the report, Huff's letter says.

"You will be informed if any of the classified portions of the report are declassified," it says.

Huff is co-director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy.

An earlier Justice Department report, the Bellows Report, which identifies problems in singling Lee out for investigation, "demonstrated that much of this information can in fact be declassified," Aftergood said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., with The Associated Press.

Aftergood said it's unlikely the OPR report will change the known story line much.

He said U.S. District Judge James Parker correctly identified part of the problem - overzealousness on the part of federal agencies committed to keeping Lee in jail without bail for nine months before Lee agreed to plead guilty to one of the 59 counts against him.

The Taiwan-born Los Alamos scientist acknowledged downloading sensitive nuclear weapons data to an unsecure computer tape cassette. Lee, a U.S. citizen, was never charged with espionage and said he never passed any sensitive or classified material to anyone.

Lee was freed with Parker's apology Sept. 13, 2000. The OPR began work on the report that same month.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press