Los Alamos scientist given sensitive job after he was under investigation
March 24, 1999
From Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senior law enforcement sources tells CNN that Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist suspected -- but not accused -- of spying for China was given a sensitive job after he was under investigation by the FBI.
The sources also said that after Lee received the job updating computers for nuclear weapons in 1997, he hired a Chinese national doctoral student to work with him. That student has since apparently left the country.
But the sources cautioned that while the FBI is suspicious of Lee and the unnamed student, agents have been unable to develop concrete evidence of espionage against them. The source pointed out that at the time Lee got the new job, the FBI had not even been able to convince the Justice Department it had enough evidence to get a wiretap.
CNN has reported for weeks that law enforcement officials said they did not have enough evidence to charge Lee, and may never charge him.
Lee took at least two undeclared trips to China, and has acknowledged talking to Chinese officials. He has denied giving Chinese officials sensitive information. He remains under investigation.
But a senior law enforcement source tells CNN that it is possible China may have been able to enhance its nuclear weapons with information from other sources -- not Lee.
Department of Energy officials fired Lee on March 8th for alleged security violations.
Law enforcement sources say it is not unusual for a suspect to keep working at a sensitive site as agents try to determine whether suspected espionage is continuing.
Law enforcement sources also tell CNN while they continue to investigate Lee and remain concerned about whether he provided the Chinese government with national security secrets, the larger issue is the 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 have taken little action until recently.
Because the security was so weak, sources say, it is difficult not only to make cases, but to assess what may have been taken and when. They also point out that Chinese officials engaged in "mosaic counterintelligence," pursuing not only espionage, but seminars, trips to labs, public source documents -- anything to help them advance their knowledge of our nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton orders review of alleged spying at U.S. nuclear labs
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