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[ISN] Los Alamos Scientist Criticizes FBI in Book
From: InfoSec News (isnc4i.org)
Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 01:09:13 CST
Forwarded from: Jei <jeialpha.hut.fi>
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2002; Page A08
Former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee maintains he was selected for
prosecution because of his ethnic background and asserts that the
computer tapes he downloaded, which were the basis of his guilty plea,
were not the "crown jewels" of nuclear weapons building, but "largely
the crown junk."
In his newly published autobiography, "My Country Versus Me," written
with the help of Helen Zia, Lee acknowledges that his downloading of
computer tapes was a security violation. But he blames the multi-year
FBI investigation of his activities and his jailing in solitary
confinement for nine months on espionage charges partly on Washington
hysteria and spineless bureaucrats.
Most of all, the Taiwan-born Lee writes, "Had I not been Chinese, I
never would have been accused of espionage and threatened with
Lee's book, however, does not totally explain why he downloaded
computer codes associated with nuclear weapons designs in 1993-94, and
again in 1997. In fact, he focuses his attention on the earlier
download and not at all on those of 1997.
As he did in earlier interviews, he said in his book that the
downloading in the 1993-94 period was done "to protect my files, to
make a backup copy." He adds, as he did just before his guilty plea to
the surprise of his own lawyers, that he had "made more than one
backup copy, actually." Why more than one backup? Because, he writes,
"there were no lab rules against making copies -- most prudent people
keep copies of their important documents."
He also said he had "lost some important codes before, when the [Los
Alamos computer] operating system changed, and I didn't want that to
But, as Los Alamos senior scientists testified at Lee's trial, and
another newly published book on the Lee case, "A Convenient Spy,"
repeats, Los Alamos scientists in the highly classified X Division
where Lee worked were repeatedly offered opportunities to copy their
own work in case of computer failure, "day by day, even computer
stroke by computer stroke," one said recently.
Reporters Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman provide another reason for Lee's
downloading. He might have wanted to use the data in a future job,
either with a Taiwan company called Asiatek, which has close ties to
that country's defense ministry, or some other company.
As for the computer codes themselves, called the "crown jewels" of the
nuclear weapons business by one of the nuclear lab's senior
scientists, Lee called them "the crown junk" and "the biggest nuclear
weapons secret that [Los Alamos National Laboratory] and the
government have to hide.
"The cornerstone of nuclear deterrence," Lee writes, "is to scare the
rest of the world into thinking that our weapons are bigger, stronger,
faster, and far more destructive than theirs." And while saying that
statement is true, Lee goes on to say, "the science of nuclear weapons
hasn't progressed much" since the end of the Cold War and the test ban
He says scientists like himself still at the U.S. weapons labs "spend
their time figuring out what to do with rusty, old nuclear bombs." The
stockpile stewardship program, "fixing old bombs and digging up old
test data" in trying to keep U.S. nuclear weapons safe and reliable,
is "like eating leftovers for dinner, [but] it's better than nothing."
Much of the preliminary testimony and motions in court went Lee's way,
particularly because of the work of his two lead lawyers, John Cline
and Mark Holscher.
But when the decision came before trial to accept an agreement that
included pleading guilty to one count of mishandling classified
information, Lee writes that Cline and Holscher told him he had a 95
percent chance of winning "if it goes to trial, but a five percent
chance that we could lose. If we lose, you could face life in prison.
Are you willing to take that risk?"
Saying "it was not worth the risk of spending the rest of my life in
prison," Lee said he agreed, since losing the right to vote, own a
gun, run for public office or serve on a jury was "less of a sacrifice
. . . than to risk a prison sentence."
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