Scientist Lee Says U.S. Targeted Him Due to Race
Zelie Pollon - Reuters - January 15, 2002
SANTA FE, N.M - A nuclear weapons scientist once suspected of spying for China says he was prosecuted because of
his race in a book released on Tuesday giving his side of the
government case that ended with all but one charge against him
"My Country Versus Me," coauthored by Wen Ho Lee and
journalist Helen Zia, argues the FBI and prosecutors singled
out the Taiwan-born scientist because he is Chinese.
"Had I not been Chinese, I never would have been accused of
espionage and threatened with execution," Lee writes of an FBI
interrogation session during which he says agents told him he
faced the same fate as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in
the electric chair in 1953 for spying for the Soviet Union.
Lee, 63 and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was fired from his job at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory
in New Mexico in March 1999 amid allegations of spying for
China. He was held in solitary confinement for nine months.
But Lee never was charged with espionage, and the
government ultimately dropped all but one of the 59 charges of
mishandling nuclear weapons data against him, prompting federal
Judge James Parker to apologize to Lee and accuse the U.S.
government of "embarrassing our entire nation."
Lee pleaded guilty to one count of downloading nuclear
weapons design secrets to a nonsecure computer.
A Justice Department report released last month found the
FBI had conducted a "deeply and fundamentally flawed"
investigation of Lee's case but rejected claims he had been
singled out because of his race.
Lee acknowledges in the book that he incorrectly downloaded
classified data to a nonsecure computer but says he only did so
to keep a copy in case the original data was deleted or
In an interview on Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, Lee said
others in the lab also made back-up copies.
"Those people, none of them are Chinese. I know that fact
and none of them have been prosecuted or put in solitary
confinement," Lee said in an interview from White Rock, a town
near Los Alamos.
"I think if I were a Caucasian I would not be a scapegoat,"
In the book, Lee says he became a political pawn as the
Clinton administration and congressional Republicans battled
over alleged security gaps at the nation's nuclear research
"Before I was accused of being a spy, I never paid much
attention to Republicans and Democrats. Now I was a football
being kicked between them. Back then I had never heard of the
word 'scapegoat,"' Lee writes in his 332-page account published
by Hyperion Books.
CIVIL SUIT PENDING
Lee has a civil lawsuit pending against the U.S.
government, charging it violated his privacy rights by leaking
allegations of Chinese spying in 1999.
He called much of the information he downloaded "garbage"
or material publicly available on the Internet, and during the
sometimes tearful NBC interview, said he would like to know who
started the probe.
"I hope they change their thinking about me and I hope some
day I will get my dignity back," he said.
Lee said he has adjusted to life as a retiree, sleeping
until 8 a.m. and pursuing his hobbies.
"I'm cooking every day. Fishing starts in April or May and
then I'll fish all summer," he told Reuters before going into
the first of several scheduled book signings in Santa Fe.
As dozens of people lined up to get Lee's autographed book, he said he was getting used to the life of a celebrity.
"It's much better than solitary confinement," he said with a laugh.