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Reno, Freeh defend handling of Wen Ho Lee case
WASHINGTON (CNN)-- Attorney General Janet Reno testified Tuesday that former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee betrayed the trust of the American people by putting U.S. nuclear secrets at risk.
Reno told the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees that Lee repeatedly transferred sensitive materials to non-secure computers where they were in greater danger of being accessed by hackers. She said that Lee was careful to cover his tracks and on one occasion entered the top-secret "X division" at 3:31 a.m. on Christmas Eve to download data.
"Dr. Lee is no hero, he is not an absent-minded professor, he is a felon," Reno said.
Reno stressed that Lee was convicted of a serious crime and insisted that he was not targeted because he is ethnic Chinese.
FBI Director Louis Freeh testified that Lee created his own "portable, personal trove" of nuclear secrets including electronic blueprints with the exact size and dimensions of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Freeh said that criminal charges were the only way to find out what happened to the data because Lee was not cooperative.
Lee faced 58 felony charges that accused the scientist of illegally downloading nuclear secrets from secure Energy Department computers. The 60-year-old Lee went free on September 13 after pleading guilty to one felony count of mishandling weapons secrets.
Under the plea agreement, Lee agreed to tell the government what he did with the tapes.
U.S. District Judge James Parker criticized the Justice Department for keeping Lee in custody so long, saying Lee's detention "embarrassed our entire nation."
Freeh testified that the government agreed to the plea bargain because it was the best way to find out why Lee downloaded nuclear data to unsecure computers and tapes and how and when he destroyed them. According to government sources, Lee has acknowledged making 10 computer tapes and another 10 backup copies.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said the length of detention "just can't be justified." Reno has asked for an internal review of the case, the White House said Friday.
Lee had been under investigation since 1996, after U.S. intelligence obtained a Chinese document suggesting that China had obtained details about the W-88, a weapon with multiple warheads. Lee never was charged with espionage.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Sunday offered support for the Justice Department's handling of the Lee case.
Richardson said he had been concerned about the treatment of the former scientist at the federal nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during more than nine months of solitary confinement.
But he said he "fully" supports the Justice Department's pursuit of the main objective: finding out what happened to missing classified tapes.
"Confinement, shackles -- I wouldn't have done that. But there's no question that I think the deal is good, because it would enable us to get what happened with that very, very sensitive, classified information," Richardson said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Though concerned about Lee's civil rights, Richardson said, "I support the decision of the Justice Department that leads us to hopefully recover whatever happened to those tapes."
Asked if he thought Lee was a spy, Richardson said, "That is something the legal process will determine."
Richardson added that, while security has been improved at Los Alamos, "We still need to do better."
But he said he does not want to go too far.
"There's been a little bit of morale problems there because of excessive security," he said. "We have to alter the balance now to ensure that productive science, national security work goes on at the labs."
CNN Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
FBI's Freeh expected to testify on Wen Ho Lee case today
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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