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Statement of
Robert S. Vrooman

before the
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee
on Administrative Oversight and the Courts

"A Continuation of Oversight of the Wen Ho Lee Case"

October 3, 2000

Chairman Specter and members of the committee, I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before this committee about the investigation of Dr. Wen Ho Lee.

In this opening statement I will address three issues, ethnic profiling, FBI and Los Alamos cooperation during the Kindred Spirit investigation and the 1994 FBI investigation of Dr. Lee.

Many people have questioned why the investigators into the original allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage failed to look beyond Los Alamos National Laboratory and Dr. Lee. Those asking this question include such distinguished people as former Senator Rudman, Senators Thompson and Lieberman and recently FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. It is my opinion that the Kindred Spirit investigators had a subtle bias that the perpetrator had to be ethnic Chinese. I base my opinion on their comments and actions prior to and during the investigation.

These comments include noting something nefarious about the number of Chinese restaurants in Los Alamos, the number of Chinese postdoctoral employees and suggesting that DOE should not allow ethnic Chinese to work on classified programs. In April 2000, a Los Alamos scientist who worked on intelligence programs wrote a letter to the employee news bulletin. He said, "While I was assigned to NIS-9, I supported, on a part time basis, the counterintelligence investigation into the alleged Chinese espionage at Los Alamos. Based on my experience and observations, I concluded that racial profiling of Asian-Americans as a result of the investigation indeed took place, but principally at the Department of Energy. Further, DOE personnel directed some Los Alamos National Laboratory staff to undertake research that profiled Asians and Asian-Americans at the Laboratory. I do not believe any of us were happy with this. I feel insulted, personally and professionally, that the DOE is seeking to spread the tarnish that belongs on it, by having the Weapons Complex undergo the mandatory diversity stand down by May 5th."

The author of the above letter is referring to a request from DOE Headquarters to Los Alamos and Livermore for a list of Chinese-Americans and the programs that they were working on. Both labs refused to provide such a list because the request was clearly in violation of EO 12333.

Director Freeh recently testified to a joint hearing of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees that the FBI opened a case on Lee based on the DOE Administrative Inquiry which stated that "Wen Ho Lee appears to have the opportunity, means and motivation" to compromise the W-88 information. Director Freeh is correct that the DOE inquiry stated this, but I would like to add that every time Lee's motive was discussed it came down to his ethnicity. There was no other motive ever suggested.

I would also like to note that the DOE inquiry was flawed because Lee did not have ready access to all of the W-88/Mark 5-reentry system or another US system that was similarly compromised. He would seem at best to be only one source of the complete leak. The FBI, of course, had no way of knowing this unless the DOE inquiry was a complete and rigorous investigation.

In spite of our reservations about the Kindred Spirit investigation, we cooperated fully with the FBI in all subsequent investigations involving Dr. Lee. From the day the FBI informed us that they intended to conduct an investigation into Dr. Lee, FBI representatives expressed similar reservations about the Kindred Spirit analysis. In my opinion, the FBI should not have accepted this case until certain issues were resolved. I am willing to elaborate on these issues in closed session if the committee desires.

As a result of serious questions about the DOE inquiry, the FBI did not assign an agent to this case on a full-time basis. It was added to one agent's already full caseload. The failure to aggressively resolve the allegations against Dr. Lee was a great source of frustration to Los Alamos Director Sig Hecker and me. On February 14, 1997 I had an acrimonious meeting with the FBI counterintelligence squad chief in Albuquerque, and he agreed to assign an agent to the investigation on a full-time basis. After this occurred we saw some progress on the case including a FISA request.

On October 15, 1997 that agent told me that he was going to work on the Peter H. Lee case and requested Los Alamos' assistance in the investigation. Once again, we had no agent assigned full time to the Wen Ho Lee case. That was the situation when I retired from Los Alamos on March 13, 1998.

On February 23, 1994, during an officially approved six-person Chinese delegation to Los Alamos, Dr. Lee met with a member of the delegation. This meeting occurred in the presence of all of the US and Chinese participants, however, and was reported in writing to the FBI by a US participant This document is classified but available to the committee from the author.

I was not aware that this meeting resulted in a FBI investigation until Director Freeh testified to that on September 26, 2000. For the record, let me state that this investigation occurred without any request for assistance from Los Alamos. We were not aware of any FBI interest in Dr. Lee until July 3, 1996.

We should not lionize Dr. Lee. He has much to answer for. On the other hand, he was not treated fairly. There are many examples, but I am most disturbed by the leaking of the investigation, along with his name, to the media. This single act destroyed the integrity of the investigation as well as adversely impacting Dr. Lee. As a result of this, I doubt if we will ever solve the mystery of how the Chinese obtained US nuclear weapons secrets.

Finally I am concerned about the collateral damage from the Lee case, particularly the adverse impact it has had on our nuclear weapons labs. Former Senator Howard Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton recently reported that the arbitrary security changes at the national labs has damaged morale, productivity and recruitment. In my opinion, this is all the more outrageous because the national labs have had and continue to have good security. If we look at what really counts, which are results not audits of paperwork and procedures, security at the labs has been better than all other government agencies. Results are reflected in the number of people in the last fifty years who were convicted, confessed to or fled the country to avoid prosecution for espionage. When we look at this by organization, the results reflect favorably on the DOE complex. We have two cases in the DOE and neither case involved the compromise of nuclear weapons information. During the same time period there were ten cases in the CIA, three in the FBI, seven in the NSA and over 80 in the DOD. When one considers that the DOE population is at least an order of magnitude larger than all but DOD, this record is impressive.

I believe that we must act quickly to repair the damage to our national labs so that the talent in the labs is available to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

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