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FBI's Freeh expected to defend handling of Wen Ho Lee case

Freeh
FBI Director Louis Freeh  

WASHINGTON (CNN)-- FBI Director Louis Freeh is expected to make a vigorous defense of the aggressive prosecution of former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee at a Congressional hearing Tuesday, according to a source familiar with Freeh's prepared remarks.

The source said Freeh will go into considerable detail describing the numerous hours Lee allegedly spent repeatedly downloading classified information about nuclear weapons. And Freeh is expected to allege that Lee appeared to engage in an attempt to cover up his activity.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

While it remained unclear whether Attorney General Janet Reno would appear at Tuesday's hearing, officials at the Justice Department say she also is prepared to defend the prosecution and to outline national-security implications of the Lee case.

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 Sept. 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."

President 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 multi-warheaded weapon. He 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."



RELATED STORIES:
Justice Department to launch formal investigation of Wen Ho Lee case
September 22, 2000
Wen Ho Lee made 20 tapes, 10 were copies, FBI tells Congress
September 20, 2000
President Clinton calls Lee case 'troubling'
September 14, 2000
Reno offers no apology for Wen Ho Lee case
September 14, 2000
Nuclear scientist Lee goes home after plea bargain
September 13, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice
WenHoLee.org
Los Alamos National Laboratory


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