|WEN HO LEE|
September 26, 2000
KWAME HOLMAN: Wen Ho Lee became a free man two weeks ago when he was released from federal prison. The nuclear weapons scientist pleaded guilty to one of the government's 59 charges arising from his illegal downloading of nuclear secrets onto personal computers when he worked at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lee agreed to tell the government why he put the data on computer tapes and what exactly became of several of them that now are missing. In exchange, he received a sentence of nine months, the time he already served awaiting trial. But questions about the conduct of the Lee investigation remain. Today, the Senate's Judiciary and Intelligence Committees held a joint hearing to ask why the government suddenly dropped most of its charges against Lee and why he had to be shackled and kept in solitary confinement during those nine months in custody. But Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby started by making it clear he believes there was adequate evidence to bring a case against Lee.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: It is a fact that Dr. Wen Ho Lee downloaded and stole hundreds of megabytes of classified nuclear weapons information. He pled guilty to unlawful retention of national defense information. Dr. Lee's actions seriously endangered our national security. The classified materials Lee downloaded included nuclear weapons design source codes that model and simulate the complex physics of a thermonuclear explosion; input decks and input files describing the exact dimensions, geometry, and materials of our most modern nuclear devices; and data files containing the results of more than 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of hard-earned nuclear knowledge, including the results of more than 1,000 nuclear tests. Dr. Paul Robinson, the director of the Sandia National Laboratory, testified that the information Lee downloaded onto tapes "represents a portfolio of information that would allow one to develop a simple, easily manufactured weapon, such a terrorist weapon, all the way up to the very best that the U.S. is capable of designing."
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said the government has some explaining to do.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: In particular, the public should hear, one, why the government believed the indictment was justified. Was the case properly charged, and could the government prove all the elements of the alleged offenses or the charged offenses? Number two, was the plea agreement an appropriate disposition of the case? Why does the government feel this represents a just result for the American people? Number three, what were the conditions of Mr. Lee's pretrial confinement, and were they appropriate? What explanation is there for the government's apparent reversal on the need for confinement, such that it agreed to Lee's immediate release following his plea? And four, was there improper targeting of Mr. Lee, based upon the fact that he is ethnic Chinese?
KWAME HOLMAN: Attorney General Janet Reno was not asked to testify, but wanted to, to assure committee members Wen Ho Lee indeed had committed a crime.
JANET RENO: Dr Lee is no hero. He is not an absentminded 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: FBI Director Louis Freeh followed Reno and took three quarters of an hour to review, in painstaking detail, the evidence against Wen Ho Lee.
LOUIS FREEH: The crime to which he pleaded guilty was part of a larger series of related crimes that were charged in the indictment. Each of those 59 counts could be proven in December, 1999, and each of them could be proven today. The facts of this case have not changed, although, as we explain below, recent rulings by the trial court pose serious obstacles to proving those facts without revealing nuclear secrets in open court.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Freeh said that concern about trying a case involving national security issues in open court led to the plea bargain agreement.
LOUIS FREEH: The Department of Justice and the FBI concluded that this guilty plea, coupled with his agreement to submit to questioning under oath and to a polygraph, was our best opportunity to protect the national security by finding out what happened to the seven missing tapes and, we found out on the way to the courthouse, the additional copies of the tapes which he has now admitted to having made. This was always the object of this investigation and prosecution: Why did he make them, where are they and what happened to them, and who had access to them? As you already know from press accounts, the plea proceeding was rescheduled at the last moment, and the parties went back to their negotiations with the assistance of the mediator judge. This delay has been the subject of considerable speculation in the media. In fact, the delay rests squarely with Dr. Lee, who made a startling revelation just before the plea proceeding was supposed to begin. For the very first time, Dr. Lee revealed that he had made copies of the tapes he had illegally created in the first place. This was an enormously significant development. What it meant was that instead of seven missing tapes, there could be many others. The plea agreement, which requires Dr. Lee's sworn testimony and requires him to submit to a polygraph, gives him the most powerful incentives to be completely truthful. If he is not, the plea agreement provides that he may be prosecuted.
KWAME HOLMAN: Freeh also responded, without being asked, to the widespread charge Wen Ho Lee may have been a victim of racial profiling.
LOUIS FREEH: There is simply no truth to these allegations. Dr. Lee was not investigated nor indicted nor incarcerated because he is an American of Asian descent. As the attorney general and the director of the FBI, we are honored to head organizations that pride themselves with fair and impartial law enforcement. We would never tolerate racial profiling or selective prosecution. Dr. Lee was investigated and prosecuted because of his actions, not his race.
KWAME HOLMAN: And then questioning began. Nevada Democrat Richard Bryan asked Reno about Wen Ho Lee's treatment while in federal custody.
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN: The manner in which he was confined is, in my view, very difficult to justify, and having the individual manacled, if true, during his exercise period, a light turned on in his room what were the physical circumstances of his confinement? Is the information we've heard accurate?
JANET RENO: Just going beyond the detention decision, which you seem to accept, and let me just talk about the shackles. There is no federal prison or detention facility in New Mexico. The closest are Latoona, Texas and Florence, Colorado, hundreds of miles away from Albuquerque. He was placed in the administrative wing of the Santa Fe County Detention facility, a facility which was under contract to the United States Marshals. He work the shackles not in the cell, but when he was being moved from place to place outside the cell. And that was the same treatment as to any prisoner in administrative segregation at Santa Fe County. We took steps to ease his conditions very early on, and he received special treatment. He got a radio. The FBI made a mandarin interpreter available in case Lee wished to speak mandarin to a family member. The times of his phone calls to his family were changed to accommodate him. Family visitations were changed to Saturdays. His exercise hours were changed and the shackles were ultimately removed during exercise.
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN: Would you agree that was unnecessarily harsh to have him shackled?
JANET RENO: Again, I think we were ultimately successful in getting the shackles removed at the county jail, and I think...
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN: With great respect, that was not the question I asked.
JANET RENO: Well, I agree with you, and I was telling you...
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN: You agree that it was unnecessarily harsh to have him shackled.
JANET RENO: I would agree. I also think there were administrative issues that the jail had to deal with.
KWAME HOLMAN: Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter questioned Freeh about the delay in indicting Wen Ho Lee. It finally happened last December, eight months after the government compiled its evidence against him.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: In that interim, having access to those tapes and codes, he had a full opportunity to disseminate it to anybody.
LOUIS FREEH: This is a hugely complex case. This is not a matter where we go into a magistrate judge with a complaint and ask for an arrest. We reviewed during that period millions of computers files. We interviewed 1,000 people. We had to know that everybody in division x was not engaging in this behavior, which, as it turns out, nobody us but Dr. Lee was, in fact. This isn't a case where we could dell the department of energy, we're going to bring a prosecution, and we're going to have to maybe litigate whether we can disclose the context of a particular primary because that will be the subject of gray mail in the case. There had to be security reviews. This was an extremely complex investigation and prosecutive process. It could not have been brought, in my view, fairly and accurately before it was.
KWAME HOLMAN: With that, the two Senate Committees ended their round of public questioning. They went into closed session to ask questions touching on national security, issues apparently too sensitive to be discussed in an open hearing.