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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

Suspended Los Alamos Scientist Arrested amid Allegations of Racism and Criticisms of Cox Report

On December 10, Wen Ho Lee, the suspended Los Alamos scientist at the centre of a storm over alleged Chinese spying at US nuclear weapons labs, was indicted of illegally gathering and storing sensitive information with the intent "to secure an advantage to a foreign nation." Federal Attorney John Kelly said: "The mishandling of classified information alleged in this indictment has, in the Government's view, resulted in…serious damage to important national interests…" According to legal officials, if found guilty, Mr Lee - a Taiwanese-born US citizen - could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

On December 14, after pleading not guilty to all charges and requesting bail, Lee was ordered to be detained in custody as "a clear and present danger" to the US. The same day, 20 Chinese-American organisations issued a denunciation of his treatment. Kathy Feng of the Asian Pacific Legal Center in California said: "We think he is being used as a political scapegoat…"

Critics of Lee's arrest and subsequent treatment include some of his colleagues. According to Mark Tilden, a former research scientists at Los Alamos (December 10): "It's not like he smuggled plutonium out in his lunch pail… This is something that would basically put [author] Tom Clancy to sleep…" On December 15, Jerry Wilhelmy, a nuclear chemist and member of a group of senior scientists known as the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows, said: "We're concerned that our colleagues worldwide have apprehensions about coming to Los Alamos…"

Lee's suspension from Los Alamos in March 1999 caused a political furore in the US, culminating last May in the release of a report by the Cox Committee, chaired by Representative Christopher Cox (Republican - California), alleging systematic and successful pilfering of nuclear weapons design information by China. On December 15, the Cox Report was fiercely criticised in a detailed rebuttal by experts based at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation. Which concluded that a number of "important and relevant facts" in the Cox Report were "wrong, and a number of conclusions …unwarranted." According to the coordinator of the study and former director of Lawrence Livermore, Michael May: "While China may spy on the US nuclear program, the allegations are generally unproven… The broad imputation of spying has cast a cloud of suspicion on both foreign and Asian-born US citizens. …" (December 15).

Reports: Los Alamos scientist Lee indicted, Associated Press, December 11; Nuke scientist Lee pleads innocent, Associated Press, December 14; China denies stealing US secrets, wary on Lee, Reuters, December 14; Chinese-American groups support 'scapegoat' Lee, Reuters, December 14; Hill Report on Chinese spying faulted, The Washington Post, December 15; Analysts criticize China spy report, Associated Press, December 15; Cox Panel findings on China spying were off - report, Reuters, December 15; Los Alamos scientists fear chill from Lee case, Reuters, December 16.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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