FAS Note: See also Lee Data Constraints Unclear by Ian Hoffman, Albuquerque Journal, April 10.
Associated PressWeapons designs and related nuclear-blast simulations downloaded by a fired Los Alamos scientist were not classified as "restricted data" at the time he is accused of illegally copying them to unclassified computers and computer tapes.
April 10, 2000
Evidence suggests material downloaded by Lee was not classified
According to prosecution evidence, most of the data Wen Ho Lee is accused of illegally mishandling was not labeled restricted, a designation the U.S. Department of Energy uses to categorize nuclear design information.
Records show most, if not all, of Lee's tapes were full of data designated as PARD, or protect as restricted data. Unlike restricted data, PARD is not a data classification. It is a set of rules for handling data.
Lee is accused of downloading classified information onto unsecured computers and computer tapes at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has been at the center of an alleged Chinese espionage scandal. Lee is not charged with spying.
He is awaiting a Nov. 6 trial and is being held without bail because of security concerns. Lee faces life in prison if convicted of the charges.
The uncertainty over the classification of the data Lee is accused of mishandling could affect the prosecution's case against the 60-year-old scientist, said Steve Aftergood, a classification expert at the Federation of American Scientists.
"This is ... an indication of potentially lesser sensitivity," said Aftergood, whose Washington, D.C.-based organization was founded by former Los Alamos weapons scientists. "It raises one more small question about the prosecution of this case."
The PARD designation was devised by the defunct Atomic Energy Commission so scientists would not have to classify and lock up reams of printouts in the early decades of weapons computing.
Under Energy Department guidelines, PARD information is to be handled as if it were classified as restricted data. But Los Alamos assigned PARD a lower level of computer security than restricted data at the time Lee allegedly downloaded the secrets.
Federal prosecutors argue that the more than 20 weapons designs and related nuclear-blast simulations Lee is accused of mishandling were extremely sensitive - the "crown jewels" of U.S. national defense.
Lee's attorneys contend the downloaded bomb secrets were not that secret and that Lee had legitimate reasons for copying them.
Neither side would comment on whether the PARD designation will play a role at trial.
"An argument can be made both ways, but the PARD designation is one step further removed from the 'crown jewels' category," said Aftergood.
Ray Holmer, director of operations for the DOE's Office of Cybersecurity and former DOE manager of classified computer security, said all data on the Los Alamos classified network are automatically viewed as secret restricted data.
In the late 1950s, weapons scientists had no desktop computers but designed nuclear bombs on large mainframe computers using punch cards.
The cards, code listings and printed outputs sometimes contained weapons secrets.
But the printouts were too voluminous to treat as secret and lock in office safes, said Bob Clark, a computational physicist who worked on weapons codes at LANL until 1995.
"It was useless to handle all this stuff as secret because there was too much of it," he said. "PARD was a way to circumvent some laws we thought were too restrictive, to get some work done."
In time, electronic data storage made punch cards and printouts obsolete and the lab expanded PARD to include electronic data files.
"The intent was for hard copy," he said. "Over time, some people migrated it inappropriately to magnetic media."
Still, under DOE rules, all data on a classified network should be considered classified until formally declassified, including the PARD downloaded by Lee, Holmer said.
"We know it's classified because it came out of a classified computer," he said. "It is classified until it's undergone a classification review to prove it's not classified."