Protecting Leakers

It was announced last week that Wen Ho Lee will receive $895,000 from the government for his legal fees in return for dropping a suit in which he accused unnamed officials in the Department of Energy and Department of Justice of violating his privacy rights back in 1999 by leaking certain information to the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and ABC.

The news organizations have agreed to pay Lee an additional $750,000 as part of the settlement, in order to quash contempt of court proceedings against five reporters who refused to disclose the sources of their stories about Lee.

Of course, even if the information that was leaked was true, the leakers committed a crime, and are hardly deserving of protection. But, what’s worse, some of the leaks weren’t true.

According to the leakers, Wen Ho Lee was a Taiwanese-born Los Alamos nuke weaponeer who had his clearance lifted in December of 1998 – and was fired by DOE Secretary Richardson a few months later – because he was under investigation by DOE and the FBI, suspected of having given the People’s Republic of China a blueprint for the W-88 nuclear warhead.

But, Wen Ho Lee’s clearance hadn’t been lifted because the lifting process easily can – and usually does – take years. And Richardson didn’t fire Wen Ho. He couldn’t. He had no authority to fire him. Wen Ho was an employee of the University of California, which runs Los Alamos for DOE. The University didn’t fire him, either. They gave him early retirement.

There had been no evidence that Wen Ho Lee – or anyone else at Los Alamos – had given secrets about the W-88 or any other nuke to the PRC.

In 1995, a “defector”‘ from the People’s Republic of China had provided the CIA 13,000 pages of classified documents.

The CIA immediately translated the titles of each major section, but fully translated only a 76-page section which a counterintelligence weenie at DOE named Notra Trulock managed to get a back channel copy of.

That section appeared to contain – inter alia – some information about the Navy’s MK5 Re-entry Vehicle. Los Alamos had little or nothing to do with the Navy’s MK 5 RV, itself, but had been responsible for the design of the W-88 nuke warhead, which had been integrated into it.

Then, in 1998, Speaker Gingrich commissioned a select committee – the Cox Committee – to look into what was alleged to be a wholesale transfer of US space and missile technology to the PRC.

Notra Trulock, defied his superiors at DOE and testified before the Cox Committee in secret session, about his long-held suspicions that there were Chinese “moles” at Los Alamos. He told them about his “Kindred Spirit” investigation that he said had been thwarted by Attorney General Reno.

Kindred Spirit? Interesting name for an investigation of DOE lab scientists who just happened to be ethnic Chinese?

Trulock was later to claim that the Cox Committee “overreacted” to his testimony.

The classified version of the Cox Committee Report was filed on Jan. 3, 1999, and much of it was promptly leaked.

The Cox Committee Report charged that the PRC had infiltrated Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore “decades ago” and had, over a period of time, stolen the “crown jewels” of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and development programs.

The name of one “suspected” PRC “mole” – Wen Ho Lee – was almost immediately leaked. It was also leaked that the counterintelligence had “evidence” that Wen Ho had given the “secret” of the W-88 to the PRC back in 1985.

The ‘leaks’ precipitated a media feeding frenzy.

There were Congressional demands that Wen Ho be fired, and two days later Secretary Richardson announced that he had.

No evidence was ever found that Wen Ho Lee – or anyone else at Los Alamos – gave secrets about the W-88 or any other nuke to the PRC.

But what they found when they searched Wen Ho’s computer in X-Division – days after he retired – blew their minds.

After spending many months trying to figure out what he had been doing, they gave up trying, suddenly threw Wen Ho in prison, kept him in solitary confinement for nine months, threatened him with execution and then, just as suddenly, inexplicably, dropped 58 of the 59 charges against him.

Wen Ho pleaded guilty to one charge of having mishandled classified computer files and “for that” he said, “I deserve to be punished.”

So far, the leakers have not even been identified, much less punished.

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.