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
"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
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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