Jailed Scientist OKs Plea Agreement

Richard Benke - Associated Press - September 10, 2000

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was fired and jailed on charges of mishandling nuclear weapons secrets, has reached a plea bargain in which he will plead guilty to one charge and cooperate with federal investigators, Justice Department sources said.

Lee will plead guilty to one felony count of unlawfully retaining nuclear weapon secrets, be sentenced to time already served and be immediately freed following a hearing, according to two senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officials said Lee, who has been jailed for nine months, has agreed to provide information on seven missing computer tapes with data on nuclear weapons design and testing. Three other tapes with information Lee allegedly downloaded have been recovered.

"The location and fate of the tapes were always of paramount concern," one of the officials said. Lee said earlier that he had destroyed the seven tapes, but officials had implied that they believed the tapes might still exist.

Lee's defense attorneys said they had been asked not to comment on the settlement.

District Judge James Parker said a hearing had been scheduled for Monday on Lee's plea agreement. Lawyers had been expected to argue Monday before an appeals court in Denver on whether Lee should be released on bail. The plea agreement cancels that hearing, the sources said.

The sources said Lee will plead guilty to one of the 59 counts against him of unlawful gathering of national defense information. He also will agree to hold himself completely available for federal investigators and cooperate with them over the next six months.

It was also expected that Lee would drop his allegations that prosecutors went after him because he is Chinese-American.

"This is a favorable resolution," one of the sources said Sunday, adding that it was a good outcome for both sides.

Lee, 60, was accused of downloading restricted material about nuclear weapons to unsecured computers and tapes while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His trial had been set for Nov. 6, and he could have faced life in prison if convicted of all 59 counts.

Lee has been jailed since his arrest Dec. 10.

Parker signed a release order for Lee to be freed on $1 million bail last month before the 10th Circuit stayed his order. Parker had set strict conditions for his release, including electronic monitoring, restrictions on travel and limits on the number of people with whom Lee could communicate. It was not immediately known if those conditions would still be enforced under the plea agreement.

Prosecutors have said releasing Lee would be a risk because he could pass on the tapes or communicate their contents to foreign governments.

Many scientific groups have protested the conditions of the Taiwan-born Lee's arrest, saying he has been the target of ethnic and racial profiling by the government.

"It's an astonishing development and an amazing retreat by the government," said Steve Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. "They had evidently decided he was not working in the interest of a foreign power or to the detriment of the United States. It's only regrettable that conclusion was not reached many months ago." ...

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