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FBI director Louis Freeh testifies on Wen Ho Lee case

Freeh
FBI Director Louis Freeh  

WASHINGTON (CNN)-- FBI Director Louis Freeh began testifying Tuesday on the evidence the government would have presented against nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee had the case gone to trial.

Freeh's statement to a congressional hearing being held on Capitol Hill is expected to review activities by Lee, dating back more than a decade, which raised suspicions among law enforcement officials. The hearing began early Tuesday. Attorney General Janet Reno testified before Freeh began his statement.

Among the activities Freeh is expected to cite, according to a source familiar with his testimony, is information that in 1982 Lee made contact with a suspected spy. Freeh is expected to say that authorities suspected Lee was less than truthful when questioned about that contact.

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Freeh also will describe how the FBI began a preliminary investigation of Lee in 1994, after it became known that he had an alleged relationship with the head of China's nuclear weapons design program and did not report the relationship.

Freeh will tell congressional investigators that in 1998, Lee acknowledged in an interview that he had been approached by Chinese nuclear scientists.

The FBI director will also tackle suggestions by Lee's defense attorneys that most of the information the scientist downloaded was not classified. Freeh is expected to argue that it was classified, extremely sensitive, and was never publicly disclosed. He will tell the panel that the information included the electronic blueprints and geometry of some of America's nuclear weapons.

Freeh will also focus on the efforts Lee made to get the material. He will state that the material was downloaded and copied in 40 hours over a total of 70 days. He also will say that Lee took computer codes.

The director also will address Lee's alleged efforts to cover his tracks. Freeh will testify that after Lee's security clearances at the lab had been pulled, the scientist made attempts to get back in to the weapons design area, including a 3:30 a.m. attempt on Christmas eve, 1998.

Freeh will say that after taking a polygraph examination on one occasion, Lee immediately began to try to delete files.

The FBI director's detailed descriptions will help explain his reasoning -- and that of senior Justice Department officials -- that it became critical to know what, if anything, Lee had done with this information.

It remained unclear whether U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno would appear at Tuesday's hearing. However, officials at the Justice Department say she also is prepared to defend the prosecution and to outline national security implications of the Lee case.

Lee
Wen Ho Lee  

Lee faced 58 felony charges that accused the scientist of illegally downloading nuclear secrets from secure Energy Department computers. The 60-year-old Lee went free on September 13 after pleading guilty to one felony count of mishandling weapons secrets.

Under the plea agreement, Lee agreed to tell the government what he did with the tapes.

U.S. District Judge James Parker criticized the Justice Department for keeping Lee in custody so long, saying Lee's detention "embarrassed our entire nation."

U.S. President Bill Clinton said the length of detention "just can't be justified." Reno has asked for an internal review of the case, the White House said Friday.

Lee had been under investigation since 1996, after U.S. intelligence obtained a Chinese document suggesting that China had obtained details about the W-88, a weapon with multiple warheads. He never was charged with espionage.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Sunday offered support for the Justice Department's handling of the Lee case.

Richardson said he had been concerned about the treatment of the former scientist at the federal nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during more than nine months of solitary confinement.

But he said he "fully" supports the Justice Department's pursuit of the main objective -- finding out what happened to missing classified tapes.

"Confinement, shackles -- I wouldn't have done that. But there's no question that I think the deal is good, because it would enable us to get what happened with that very, very sensitive, classified information," Richardson said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Though concerned about Lee's civil rights, Richardson said, "I support the decision of the Justice Department that leads us to hopefully recover whatever happened to those tapes."

Asked if he thought Lee was a spy, Richardson said, "That is something the legal process will determine."

Richardson added that, while security has been improved at Los Alamos, "We still need to do better."

But he said he does not want to go too far.

"There's been a little bit of morale problems there because of excessive security," he said. "We have to alter the balance now to ensure that productive science, national security work goes on at the labs."



RELATED STORIES:
FBI's Freeh expected to defend handling of Wen Ho Lee case
September 25, 2000
Richardson offers support of Justice's handling of Lee case
September 24, 2000
Justice Department to launch formal investigation of Wen Ho Lee case
September 22, 2000
Wen Ho Lee made 20 tapes, 10 were copies, FBI tells Congress
September 20, 2000
President Clinton calls Lee case 'troubling'
September 14, 2000
Reno offers no apology for Wen Ho Lee case
September 14, 2000
Nuclear scientist Lee goes home after plea bargain
September 13, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice
WenHoLee.org
Los Alamos National Laboratory


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