Statement by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh
Concerning Wen Ho Lee Case
In June of this year Judge Parker raised as a possibility the opportunity to engage in mediation in the Wen Ho Lee case. Ultimately the parties agreed to a protocol and four weeks ago, even prior to the most recent bail hearings, Dr. Lee's lawyers and the government began the plea bargain process in earnest. Our goal was to achieve what is being announced today. In return for a plea of guilty to one felony count, Dr. Lee and his lawyers agreed to a process we believe provides the opportunity to determine what in fact happened to the nuclear design and source codes that Dr. Lee unlawfully and criminally downloaded, copied, and removed from Los Alamos. In simple terms, the government accepted this plea in exchange for the full cooperation of Dr. Lee.
FBI investigation, with great assistance from the nuclear weapons experts at Los Alamos, determined that the rough equivalent of 400,000 pages of nuclear design and testing information was transferred out of the secure computers at Los Alamos and downloaded onto ten portable tapes. As the government has previously stated, this 806 megabytes of nuclear weapons data represents the fruits of 100s of billions of dollars of investment by the United States. While three of the tapes have been recovered, the others remained missing and unaccounted for.
Documents seized from Dr. Lee's possession during searches in the course of the investigation provided substantial evidence of his criminal conduct. Complex analysis of millions of computer records established with certainty that during nearly 40 hours of downloading over 70 different days Dr. Lee manipulated these enormous and often highly classified nuclear weapons data files in a way that defeated existing security and allowed them to be placed onto tapes in an unclassified setting. While some of the information was not classified, the government was prepared to prove that much of it was highly classified nuclear weapons information. The government was also prepared to prove that the tapes were unlawfully made and unlawfully removed from the possession of the United States. With today's plea agreement, there is no longer any doubt that it happened. Dr. Lee acknowledges that in his plea.
The government was prepared to prove that the weapons data was taken in this fashion and that numerous efforts were made both to conceal the unlawful download of classified information and to destroy the electronic footprints left by the transfer and downloading process. The government was prepared to prove that after the existence of the investigation became known, efforts were made by Dr. Lee to delete files that had been manipulated into unclassified systems. The government was prepared to prove that there were many attempts -- some in the middle of the night -- to regain access to the classified systems even after access had been formally revoked by Los Alamos.
As the government has previously represented to Dr. Lee and the court, determining what happened to the tapes has always been paramount to prosecution. On balance, from the moment it became clear that the nuclear weapons design and testing information was stolen, it is most important to the security of the nation to determine with certainty what Dr. Lee did with the tapes, if they were copied, and whether he gave them to another country. Success in the investigation and prosecution, while clearly an objective given the extraordinary sensitivity of what was removed from Los Alamos, does not in the end protect the nation to the degree that determining what happened to the tapes after he made them does. The safety of the nation demands we take this important step.
In this case, as has happened often in the past, national security and criminal justice needs intersect. In some instances, prosecution must be foregone in favor of national security interests. In this case, both are served.
As the government indicated previously, the indictment followed an extensive effort to locate any evidence that the missing tapes were in fact destroyed, and repeated requests to Dr. Lee for specific information and proof establishing what did or did not happen to the nuclear weapons data on the tapes. None was forthcoming. The indictment followed substantial evidence that the tapes were clandestinely made and removed from Los Alamos but no evidence or assistance that resolved the missing tape dilemma.
Some will undoubtedly question whether the penalty imposed by this guilty plea arrangement is commensurate with the theft and crimes that occurred. Dr. Lee was entrusted with some of the nation's most vital and highly classified information. Were the location of the tapes not at issue, the answer in all likelihood would be no. But the location of the stolen data and who, if anybody, has had access to it, are at issue. These have been the central issues since we first asked Dr. Lee, prior to the indictment, what he did with the tapes and information. The obligation that rests on the government is first and foremost to determine where the classified nuclear weapons information went and if it was given to others or destroyed. This simple agreement, in the end, provides the opportunity of getting this information where otherwise none may exist.
Dr. Lee has pleaded to his crime. Now for the first time we have the opportunity for him to explain what happened and to provide the United States with the information necessary to give assurance that the nuclear weapons data has not been and cannot further be compromised. As is customary, the agreement is based on his truthfulness -- and the government will have ample opportunity to verify what we are told, to include, if necessary, use of the polygraph. As the Attorney General said, if we believe he is not being truthful and forthcoming, then we can move to void the agreement and prosecute on all counts in the indictment.
The FBI is grateful to the Attorney General and her staff for making this plea bargain possible. We are also grateful to U.S. Attorney Norman Bay, lead prosecutor George Stamboulidis, and all of the other prosecutors and FBI Agents who so meticulously constructed this case and who were prepared to go to trial. I want especially to thank the FBI's many computer experts who, along with John Browne and his staff at Los Alamos, were able to unravel this extraordinarily complex computer case.