Defense Argues Ethnicity Made Scientist a Suspect
James Sterngold - The New York Times - August 16, 2000
ALBUQUERQUE -- In the first of two days of potentially
pivotal hearings in the case of the
scientist accused of mishandling important nuclear weapons secrets, defense lawyers offered evidence today
suggesting that he had been singled
out for prosecution largely because
he is Chinese-American.
The lawyers for the scientist, Wen
Ho Lee, who has been held for eight
months on charges that he improperly downloaded some of the country's
most sensitive nuclear secrets, offered affidavits and interviews from
top intelligence officials suggesting
that Dr. Lee had been made the
target of the investigation at least in
part because of his ethnicity, while
some whites who could have been
suspects were not pursued.
Although the prosecutors have denied these accusations, the defense
contentions are among the reasons
that Asian-Americans, the American
Civil Liberties Union and some other
legal groups have embraced the case
as an example of racial profiling.
The outcome of the arguments in
Federal District Court here today
are not expected to be known for
several days at least as the judge,
James A. Parker, decides whether to
allow the defense to gain access to
reams of government documents regarding investigations of Asian-Americans on security matters. If
the defense is given access and is
able to prove that Dr. Lee was unfairly singled out for prosecution, the
judge could order that the charges in
the 59-count indictment be dropped.
Another significant hearing is
scheduled for Wednesday, in which
the defense will argue again that Dr.
Lee, who is 60, be released on bail.
Dr. Lee was denied bail twice,
largely because government experts
contended that he had mishandled
what amounted to the "crown jewels" of the country's weapons program and that if the secrets found
their way to a foreign power they
could alter the international balance
of military power.
The defense has affidavits from a
former director of the Los Alamos
National Laboratory and other experts arguing that much of what Dr.
Lee downloaded from a secure computer at Los Alamos was either already available publicly or would be
of modest use or none to most countries, and was not even given a secret
classification until after Dr. Lee had
been fired last year.
In addition, the judge had earlier
appeared to rely heavily on government accusations that Dr. Lee had
deceived another Los Alamos scientist when he used the other person's
computer to do the downloading. The
defense says it now has evidence that
no such deception took place.
The Wen Ho Lee Page