Associated PressThe FBI wasted four years investigating nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee because it failed to correct misleading information provided by the Energy Department, according to a report prepared for the government.
August 13, 2001
Government's Wen Ho Lee review: Energy Department misled the FBIBy PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
The Energy Department's inquiry in 1996 "was a deeply flawed product whose shortcomings went unrecognized and unaddressed due to the FBI's own inadequate investigation," said the report on China's acquisition of U.S. nuclear secrets.
It was prepared for the Justice Department by former federal prosecutor Randy Bellows.
"Had either the FBI or DOE done what it should have done, the FBI could have been investigating in the year 1996 what it is now investigating in the year 2000," said two heavily censored chapters of the report released Monday.
The information the Energy Department gave the FBI had been transformed by the department "from a broad identification of potential suspects to a virtual indictment" of Lee and his wife, said the report.
A judge ordered the chapters released as part of a lawsuit by former Energy Department counterintelligence chief Notra Trulock.
Trulock contends two Energy Department investigators defamed him when they said the Taiwanese-born Lee was targeted because of his race. The report says he was not, but criticizes DOE for singling out Lee without considering other suspects.
The FBI "actively pursued corrective action to improve and enhance its counterintelligence program" when it received the Bellows report, the bureau said in a statement. The Energy Department said, "this administration continues to strengthen our security procedures," adding that it will review the report in case other policy changes are necessary.
"The message communicated to the FBI was that the FBI need look no further within DOE for a suspect. Wen Ho Lee was its man," the report said. "The FBI never should have accepted this message, as is."
The Energy Department also misled the FBI by inaccurately representing the findings of a panel of nuclear scientists and weapons analysts assembled to assess whether China had breached U.S. weapons security.
The Kindred Spirit Analytical Group (KSAG) concluded that there was a high probability that U.S. intelligence had helped China "avoid blind alleys in their own research and development."
"What KSAG concluded, however, and what the FBI would be told these DOE experts concluded, were two different matters," the review states, and "resulted in the FBI spending years investigating the wrong crime."
DOE officials were reviewing the report Monday. Lee's attorneys were traveling and could not be reached.
"The abysmal handling of the initial phases of this case caused serious harm and delay in resolving fundamental questions about a grave compromise of our nuclear secrets," said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has looked into several problems at the FBI, said the report "shows what can happen when investigators focus too narrowly."
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert for the Federation of American Scientists, which has supported Lee, said the Energy Department's focus on Lee as a suspect may have allowed a real spy to slip away.
"They both did an exceptionally unprofessional job in handling this very serious problem," he said of the department and the FBI.
Lee, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, was held in solitary confinement for nine months and indicted on 59 felony counts alleging he transferred nuclear weapons information to portable computer tapes.
He was not charged with spying, and denied giving information to China. He eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of downloading sensitive material.
The judge in the case said prosecutors misled him, and he apologized to Lee. Former President Clinton also said Lee's imprisonment "just can't be justified."
Lee has sued the government for allegedly leaking information to the media that made it appear he had spied.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press