from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
June 8, 2001
COURT ASKED TO UNSEAL WEN HO LEE CASE FILES
- COURT ASKED TO UNSEAL WEN HO LEE CASE FILES
- WHISTLEBLOWER AMENDMENTS PROPOSED
A large portion of the docket from last year's trial of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was sealed by the court and remains inaccessible to the public. This week several civil rights groups filed a motion in Albuquerque asking the trial court to unseal those records that are not properly classified.
Wen Ho Lee was indicted in December 1999 on 59 counts of unlawfully gathering national defense information, imprisoned under unusually harsh conditions for 9 months, and then released in September 2000 with an extraordinary apology from the court after he pled guilty to a single count concerning the mishandling of computer data.
The new motion, filed June 6 by the ACLU and others on behalf of Chinese for Affirmative Action, suggested that the withheld files might contain "important information relating to Lee's possible selective prosecution on the basis of his race and national origin."
But the thrust of the motion relates more broadly to the practice of indiscriminately sealing court records on asserted national security grounds. The court improperly delegated authority to a Security Officer to determine which documents would be withheld, the motion argues, and failed to perform its own assessment as required.
The motion's supporting memorandum assembles an impressive body of case law to remind the court of the public's right of access to court documents and the narrow circumstances under which records can legitimately be sealed. See:
WHISTLEBLOWER AMENDMENTS PROPOSED
New legislation to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who expose government malfeasance was introduced yesterday by Senators Akaka, Grassley and Levin.
The legislation was deemed necessary because of a series of federal court rulings that have gradually diminished whistleblower rights.
"Recent holdings by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit have corrupted the intent of Congress, with the result that additional clarifying language is sorely needed," said Sen. Carl Levin.
Of particular note, the new bill reaffirms the right of whistleblowers to disclose classified information about wrongdoing to Congress. "National security secrecy must not cancel Congress' right to know about betrayals of the public trust," said Sen. Charles Grassley.
The bill is supported by the Government Accountability Project, the National Whistleblower Center, and other whistleblower advocates.
See the text of the bill and the accompanying floor speeches here:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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