Suspected Chinese Spy
Chosen For Key US
Nuclear Program
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Los Alamos National Laboratory chose Wen Ho Lee (pictured), a scientist who was already under investigation as a suspected spy for China, to lead a sensitive nuclear weapons program in 1997, several senior government officials told the New York Times on Wednesday.
Lee then hired a postdoctoral researcher who was a Chinese citizen and who has since disappeared, intelligence and law-enforcement officials told the newspaper.
The Taiwanese-born Lee was fired earlier this month amid allegations that he leaked nuclear secrets to Beijing from the New Mexico nuclear laboratory.
He remains a suspect in the FBI's continuing investigation of allegations that China stole nuclear secrets from U.S. weapons laboratories, the newspaper said, citing senior government officials.
China has denied the allegations, and the issue has cast a shadow over U.S. relations with China and raised doubts about security at U.S. weapons laboratories.
Although the FBI had said a wiretap on Lee would enable the agency to keep a close watch on the computer expert, the bureau never received approval from the Justice Department for electronic monitoring, officials told the newspaper.
In September 1997, FBI Director Louis Freeh told senior Energy Department officials that the bureau did not have enough evidence to arrest Lee and there was no longer any investigative reason to keep him in a sensitive position, law-enforcement officials told the newspaper.
Earlier this week on NBC's "Meet the Press," U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson denied reports that the FBI had said there was no reason to keep Lee on the job. The FBI did not comment on Richardson's statements.
Clinton administration officials told the New York Times that Lee's new position had been approved in part because it was believed his access to information would be "controlled."
Lee's job was to update the programming codes for the weapons labs' "stockpile stewardship" program, an initiative to make sure the American nuclear weapons inventory could be safely maintained without further nuclear testing.
The FBI is trying to find the research assistant to question him in connection with the Los Alamos case.
At one point, the agency investigated the assistant, who had studied at the University of Pittsburgh, and did not conclude that he had any intelligence connection.
The assistant worked with Lee from about May through September 1997, the newspaper reported. Officials told the newspaper they were not sure if the student was still in the United States.
After congressional prodding, the Energy Department gave Lee a lie detector test in December 1998 and he appeared to pass. The FBI gave him a second test in February and officials said he was found to be deceptive.