US Judge Nixes Nuke Scientist's Bid to Leave Jail

December 29, 1999 - Zelie Pollon

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a bid by former government nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee to be released from jail pending his trial on charges of illegally copying U.S. nuclear weapons data.

U.S. District Judge James Parker said the government had proven that missing computer tapes allegedly in Lee's possession could pose a threat to national security if Lee, 60, were to be released.

"The government has shown clearly and convincingly at this time that the danger presented by the missing tapes has potential for enormous harm," the judge said, referring to seven computer tapes Lee allegedly used to copy top-secret data from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Lee, who has said he is not guilty of any of the 59 felony counts against him, maintained that he destroyed the tapes. Prosecutors argued that he never has provided evidence of the destruction of the tapes and may still have them stashed away.

Lee had offered to be put under 24-hour electronic surveillance in his home as well as allowing his telephones to be tapped if allowed out on bail.

But prosecutors argued the court would have to impose so many surveillance and control measures, including having fluent Chinese-speaking federal agents on hand at all times, that it would be an unfair burden on the government.

Parker said he would be willing to reconsider bail for Lee if prosecutors agreed to a defense request for a new polygraph test about the fate of the missing tapes.

"If the polygraph results in allaying fears regarding the tapes, then Dr. Lee's request can be reconsidered in a different light," the judge said.

Lee, dressed in a dark suit, showed no reaction to the judge's ruling but his adult son and daughter, Chung Lee and Alberta Lee, cried as they sat behind him in court. Lee's wife Sylvia also showed no response.

Relaxation Of Jail Conditions Urged

The judge recommended that the government consider relaxing the conditions imposed on Lee in the Sante Fe County detention center in New Mexico. Those restrictions include a limit of one visitor per week and a requirement that he speak only English.

"We just learned the other day that he hasn't received our mail and he hadn't seen the sky until this hearing," Chung Lee told reporters outside the courtroom.

John Cline, Lee's attorney, said he would file another appeal in January against the no-bail order.

The judge's ruling came after three days of hearings, including testimony from FBI agents and Los Alamos experts, on Lee's appeal against a two-week-old court order that he be kept in jail without bond pending trial sometime next year.

Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was arrested on Dec. 10 and charged with moving secret data from a classified computer at Los Alamos National Laboratory to an unclassified system and then copying it onto portable computer tapes.

Lee was not charged with espionage and the government has acknowledged it has no evidence that any secrets were passed to another country.

The federal charges were filed seven months after Lee was fired as a nuclear weapons developer at the laboratory in March.

Lee has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is expected to begin late next year and Lee could face a life sentence if convicted.

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