Secret documents to be declassified to get Lee
By Elaine Shannon/Washington
November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:10 p.m. EST (1710 GMT)
Hoping to nudge the Justice Department into filing charges
against fired nuclear-weapons expert WEN HO LEE, officials at
the Department of Energy are about to declassify some highly
secret documents about the nature of Lee's work at the Los
Alamos National Laboratory.
According to sources familiar with the case, Energy Secretary
BILL RICHARDSON has told aides that excessive secrecy should not
stand in the way of charging Lee for downloading to an unsecure
computer the so-called legacy codes that describe the performance
of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Though the FBI has not found evidence to support an espionage
indictment against Lee, Justice officials are considering
charging him under a lesser statute that makes it a federal
felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to handle
national defense information with "gross negligence."
Richardson and FBI officials are said to be eager to see Lee
indicted, not only to sanction him for downloading the legacy
codes but also to pressure him to talk about why he did so and
with whom, if anyone, he shared the data.
Still, officials acknowledge, the mishandling law is flawed. Says
a veteran espionage-law specialist: "If you prosecuted people for
leaving classified documents in a men's room or a cab or at home,
you'd end up prosecuting every GS-7 clerk and secretary in the
government." As a matter of policy, to avoid negative court
decisions that could make it harder to try full-fledged espionage
cases, the Justice Department has rarely invoked the statute.
Lee's lawyer, Mark Holscher, is underwhelmed. "It is unfortunate
that unnamed sources appear to be attempting to use the press to
revive this flawed investigation," he said. "We continue to
believe and expect that Dr. Lee will be exonerated."
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Cover Date: November 1, 1999