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.

"This was a major change within the Department of Energy," Peña recalls. He summoned the directors of the national laboratories to Washington, where they were briefed on the espionage allegations not only by him, but also by FBI director Louis Freeh and CIA director George Tenet. "We wanted to make sure the message was delivered very clearly," Peña says.

The DOE also provided assistance in the espionage investigation of Peter Lee and implemented numerous other changes. "We did these things in a quiet fashion," Peña adds. "We did not want to alert any suspects."

Peña resigned the DOE post and returned to Denver in mid-1998.

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.

In the spring of 1998, Dr. Lee spent six weeks teaching and consulting at the Chung Shan Institute of Taiwan, a government-owned organization that specializes in national defense technologies and information. He returned to Taiwan again in December 1998 to deliver a speech at the institute and do some more consulting. During one of these trips, he accessed the Los Alamos computer from a remote terminal called "Seagull," removed two unclassified files from one of his classified collections of files, and had the two documents electronically transferred back to Taiwan.

On December 23, 1998, Lee was administered another polygraph examination, officially known as a Psychophysiological Detection of Deception Examination, by the Wackenhut Corporation, a DOE contractor. According to a copy of the examination in the appeals-court files, the test had been requested by Edward J. Curran, director of the DOE's Office of Counterintelligence, in order to "resolve a security concern." The almost-six-hour examination was given in a large conference room at Los Alamos; voices and other workaday sounds could be heard, but they didn't seem to distract Lee.

During the exam, Lee talked about the lie detector test he had taken in the early '80s, relating basically the same story that agent Messemer had told Judge Parker during the closed-door hearing. Lee also told the polygrapher that at about five o'clock one evening in August 1998, while working at his office, he received a strange call from a man he had never met before. The caller said he was from China and was staying in a Santa Fe hotel. "Does the Peter Lee case result in any consequences to the Chinese at the laboratory?" the caller asked.

Taiwanese-born Peter Lee is another scientist who'd worked at Los Alamos and for a contractor to Lawrence Livermore labs. He is not related to Wen Ho Lee, nor is he the Livermore scientist whose phone was tapped in the early '80s. According to a report issued by a select committee chaired by California Republican Christopher Cox, during a 1985 trip to China Peter Lee provided the People's Republic with classified information on how lasers are used to create miniature nuclear fusion explosion; in 1997, he is alleged to have provided them with information about submarine detection research. Peter Lee pleaded guilty in 1997 to wilfully passing classified U.S. defense information to the People's Republic during his 1985 visit and to falsifying reports of contact with PRC nationals in 1997. He was sentenced to twelve months in a halfway house, a $20,000 fine, and 3,000 hours of community service.

Dr. Lee found it strange that the caller was asking him a question about Peter Lee. "Nothing happened," he responded. Then the caller asked Lee to meet him at his hotel; Lee said he would have to obtain approval from the lab first. "That's fine, get your approval," the caller instructed. But Lee thought about it, told the man he was not interested and hung up. The next morning, he said, he told the appropriate lab officials about the conversation.

(The phone call turned out to be a "false flag operation" -- with an intelligence agent pretending to be from another country -- designed by the FBI to get the Wen Ho Lee case off dead center, according to a person familiar with the investigation. But Dr. Lee did not take the bait.)

As the polygraph continued, Wen Ho Lee apparently disclosed for the first time that during one of his trips to China in the late '80s, a "Mr. Chin" had asked him a question that he knew pertained to classified information. A "Mr. Hu" was also present for the interchange but didn't say anything. "Mr. Lee stated that when Mr. Chin asked this question, he responded that he did not know and that the question did not interest him," the examiner noted.

Lee's failure to mention this contact earlier seems like a small detail, but security regulations require Los Alamos scientists to inform their superiors whenever a foreign scientist tries to elicit classified information from them. Dr. Lee initially "inferred" that he had reported the discussion with Mr. Chin on his trip report, the polygraph states, but subsequently admitted that he may not have specifically mentioned it. He also told the examiner that for several years after the conference, he had received requests from "various professionals" requesting information that was previously published or in the public domain. "He said he honored such requests but specifically identified public domain information," the examiner stated. "He never provided any other information, and absolutely no information of a sensitive or classified nature." The examiner then asked Lee four specific questions:

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