2 Affidavits Are Unsealed in Secrets Case At Los Alamos

James Sterngold - The New York Times - September 1, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- A federal court today made public affidavits filed by lawyers for the former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in which two former intelligence officials said they were aware of instances in which government employees had been caught in serious cases of espionage but not prosecuted.

The defense has introduced the statements in its efforts to prove that Dr. Lee, who has been indicted on charges that he illegally downloaded a wealth of nuclear weapons secrets with the intent of helping a foreign country, was unfairly singled out for prosecution because of his race. Dr. Lee, 60, a naturalized American citizen, was born in Taiwan and, although he is not accused of spying, he was initially investigated on suspicions he had passed secrets to China.

The defense has previously released statements in which government intelligence officials said that Dr. Lee had been unfairly targeted because of concerns that because he was of Chinese descent he might be inclined to commit espionage for China. The fact that Dr. Lee was born in Taiwan, a strident enemy of the People's Republic of China, had been ignored, they said.

The affidavits released today go further, though, by providing details of serious espionage cases in which admitted spies apparently escaped criminal prosecution altogether.

Robert Vrooman, the former head of counterintelligence at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Dr. Lee worked, provided one affidavit. Mr. Vrooman, who has since retired from Los Alamos and who was reprimanded for not pursuing Dr. Lee more vigorously, disclosed for the first time an intelligence investigation code-named "Buffalo Slaughter."

In this investigation, he wrote, sometime in the late 1980's a person working at an Energy Department laboratory was caught after having passed secrets to a foreign country. "That individual was granted full immunity in return for agreeing to a full debriefing on the information that he passed," Mr. Vrooman said. That person, he added, was not of Chinese origin.

The second affidavit unsealed today was by Charles E. Washington, the former acting head of counterintelligence at the Department of Energy. Mr. Washington, who still works at the department as an international policy analyst, said that while he was head of counterintelligence he read an administrative report on the investigation of Dr. Lee and believed it "was wholly lacking in any support to identify Dr. Lee as a suspect."

Mr. Washington said that he knew of a number of department employees who were not prosecuted "for committing offenses that are much more serious than the 'security infractions' alleged to have been committed by Dr. Lee."

"I am personally aware of a D.O.E. employee who committed a most egregious case of espionage that cost our nation billions of dollars and drastically impacted our national defense," he said. "That D.O.E. employee was not prosecuted."

No further details were provided.

"The department aggressively pursues all such allegations," said Natalie Wymer, an Energy Department spokeswoman, but she would not comment on the specific cases mentioned.

These affidavits, unsealed today in Federal District Court in Albuquerque, follow by several days an order by the federal judge in Dr. Lee's case, James A. Parker, in which he gave the government two weeks to hand over thousands of pages of classified internal documents to determine if there is evidence that Dr. Lee was a victim of selective prosecution. If the judge finds that that was the case, the charges against him could be dropped.

In previous statements, Mr. Vrooman had disputed F.B.I. assertions that Dr. Lee had been singled out for investigation because he fit the description of a spy they were searching for. Mr. Vrooman said again in today's affidavit that dozens of people who also met the criteria, but who were not ethnically Chinese, were not pursued. The intelligence official said that even though he had investigated Dr. Lee for years, he considered him "naïve," but not a spy.

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