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Spies, Lies & Portable Tapes

The feds were already suspicious of scientist Wen Ho Lee. Then they discovered hed downloaded every secret in the nuclear arsenal.

Wen Ho Lee downloaded in their entirety the primary and secondary codes that were used on a daily basis to monitor and access the reliability of America's nuclear stockpile. Specifically, he downloaded "Code A," an alias for a secondary code that is some 223,000 lines in length. Furthermore, according to testimony, he allegedly downloaded both versions of the code, one that could be run on a Cray supercomputer and one that could be run on a more portable Sun computer or even a Hewlett-Packard. He also took the data tables needed to run Code A in two different computer formats. Code A, testified physicist Stephen Younger, was the lab's "key design tool."

Lee also downloaded "Code B," a modern primary code that was also used on a daily basis. Code B and its related databases, Younger testified, "represent a complete nuclear-weapons design capability, everything you would need to install that capability in another location, everything."

He also took Codes D, G, H, K and I, as well as the related data tables and the so-called input decks, or blueprints, for numerous types of weapon designs, ranging from the most rudimentary to the most sophisticated design in the arsenal. Said Krajcik, "It wouldn't be so much that you wouldn't expect a code physicist to have some of these input decks. What I found surprising was that he had a whole collection of important input decks, decks of devices that had been successfully tested."

The spy next door? Wen Ho Lee heading into court last December.
The spy next door? Wen Ho Lee heading into court last December.
The spy next door? Wen Ho Lee heading into court last December.
The spy next door? Wen Ho Lee heading into court last December.

The Los Alamos physicists testified that there was no legitimate reason for one scientist to have amassed all of the codes, since they generally worked on only one small piece at a time. There was also no need for scientists to make backups, because numerous protective measures had been built into Los Alamos's computing system so there was zero chance that the information could be lost.

All of the Q-cleared scientists, including Lee, were well-versed in the rules of security. Many had been in the program long enough to have witnessed actual detonations at the Nevada Test Site or at the Pacific Proving Ground, and they understood how necessary it was to protect the information. Nobody in the history of Los Alamos had ever moved such a vast amount of data to an unclassified environment, Krajcik testified. "People who work on these codes work in a classified environment for a specific reason, and that is that they are dealing with extremely sensitive materials."

As the computer investigation proceeded, the FBI also discovered that Lee had begun deleting the classified files he'd collected just as the authorities were closing in. In all, 360 files were deleted, including the nineteen TAR files. The deletions occurred on January 20, February 10, February 11, February 12 and February 17. One of the largest deletions was made only two hours after Lee had been notified that he failed the FBI polygraph.

Investigators also discovered that during this period, Lee had reconfigured several of the tapes that he had made to remove the classified material. According to Messemer, Lee lied to another employee in order to get access to a machine with a tape drive, telling the employee he needed to upload the information on the tape "into the unclassified system in order to run some calculations," the agent testified. "Moreover, [Lee] said that he would make a copy of these calculations available to the T-3 user of this computer, ostensibly to allay any concerns he might have that Dr. Lee was using it improperly."

With the massive deletions, Wen Ho Lee almost succeeded in obliterating his tracks forever. Reconstructing the files was a veritable "needle-in-a-haystack operation," Messemer said. "We came very, very close, within literally days, of having lost that material."

"Permanently?" asked Robert Gorence, the lead prosecutor.

"Permanently," Messemer responded.

"I don't want to put words in your mouth, but if they had been permanently deleted and written over on the central file system, would that deletion by Dr. Lee have kept that forever from this investigation?"

"Yes, it would have," responded Messemer. "It would have been irretrievable from our current capability."

One of the items that helped investigators reconstruct the files was a notebook found in Lee's house during an April 10, 1999, search. In the notebook, written in Chinese and English, they found a description of the tapes he had made, the amount of data stored on them, his passwords and a step-by-step set of instructions on how to make the actual tapes. The FBI also found three letters in Lee's garage from Li Deyuan, a senior nuclear-weapons scientist at China's Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics, and Zheng Shaotang, another senior official from the institute. The letters specifically asked Lee to send unclassified Los Alamos codes to them or to another institute member who was studying at Princeton University. Although at the time the DOE was actively encouraging its scientists to share these unclassified codes in order to create a spirit of cooperation, the letters bolstered the FBI's belief that Lee was engaged in suspicious activities.

The computer forensics investigation also revealed one more thing: There had been some sixty to seventy incidents in which someone sitting at a computer at the University of California at Los Angeles had used Dr. Lee's login and password. Many of these logins occurred at nearly the same time that Lee was downloading and transferring data.

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