FBI searches home of scientist fired in China probe
April 10, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI has searched the home of Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwan-born scientist who was fired from the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory during an investigation into whether China had obtained secret technology from the plant, senior law enforcement officials told CNN on Saturday.
The search of Lee's home just outside Los Alamos, New Mexico, is significant because it means the federal investigation of Lee remains intensive.
Law enforcement sources previously had said that after more than a year of investigation they had not been able to develop enough evidence to charge Lee, and they expressed some doubts they ever would.
Agents searched Lee's home pursuant to a court order, having convinced a judge there was probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed.
According to sources, agents were searching for computer records and other documents that may have contained classified information. They were also checking for records that might contain details about possible Chinese government contacts.
The FBI has been investigating whether Lee passed along secrets to the Chinese that would have helped them improve their nuclear warheads.
While acknowledging the search showed the investigation of Lee remains very active, law enforcement sources nonetheless emphasized that an arrest was not imminent.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson released a statement acknowledging the search, although he did not identify Lee by name.
"The FBI is investigating and pursuing this case vigorously, and the Department of Energy is supporting the law enforcement effort fully," Richardson said.
Lee was fired March 8 for allegedly failing to inform energy officials about contacts with China, allegedly failing to safeguard classified materials and allegedly attempting to deceive officials about security-related issues, government sources say.
This information was used to justify pursuing the search warrant.
Lee took at least two undeclared trips to China and has acknowledged in FBI interviews that he talked to Chinese officials. He has denied giving Chinese officials sensitive information.
Lee, even while under investigation, was given a sensitive job updating computer codes and hired a Chinese national doctoral student. Law enforcement officials say the FBI has located the student and is reviewing his background.
Law enforcement sources told CNN that while they continue to investigate Lee and remain concerned about whether he provided the Chinese government with U.S. national security secrets, the larger issue is weak security at the nation's nuclear labs.
Department of Energy officials had been warned repeatedly about allowing overseas nationals, like the Chinese student, in the labs but took little action until recently.
Sources say that because the security was so weak, it is difficult not only to make cases, but to assess what may have been taken and when.
Saturday, April 10, 1999
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