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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

Wen Ho Lee in Jail as US Energy Department Wrestles with Reform

The US Energy Department is moving towards the significant and controversial reforms demanded of it by Congress in the wake of allegations - for many, proof - of systematic Chinese espionage in the Department's nuclear weapons labs. The centrepiece of the reform is the establishment of a semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), scheduled to begin work on March 1, about which both Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and President Clinton have previously expressed misgivings, feeling it may act to diminish the ability of the Department itself to operate and supervise the work of the labs. On December 30, Richardson announced the appointment of a search committee to select candidates for the new post of Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, the person who will head the NNSA.

On January 7, Richardson submitted an NNSA Implementation Plan. According to the Secretary. The Implementation Plan is available in full from the Department of Energy website (http://www.doe.gov/news/nnsa.pdf). It was immediately criticised by those members of Congress suspicious that the DoE is intent on radically diluting the power and semi-autonomous status of the new agency.

An internal DoE report - published in mid-January in declassified form and posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientist (www.fas.org) - has concluded that hundreds of documents which have been declassified and placed in the National Archive contain potentially sensitive and damaging information about US nuclear weapons. An unnamed Department official told Reuters on January 19: "This is stuff that represents information about old weapons, old tests… These things are of concern because they could be valuable to someone who was trying to develop a nuclear capability. …"

The former Los Alamos scientist at the centre of the Chinese spying storm, Taiwanese-born US citizen Wen Ho Lee, has been in prison pending trial on charges under the Atomic Energy and Espionage Acts since December 10. Lee was denied bail on December 29, when District Judge James parker ruled that his release could entail "enormous harm" to US national security interests. The scientist's treatment has provoked a major outcry from groups who regard him as a scapegoat sacrificed on the altar of Congressional paranoia about Chinese infiltration. On January 8, the Washington Post released excerpts from a transcript of Lee's interrogation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in which FBI officials told Lee he had failed a lie detector (polygraph) test which had in fact given him high marks for honesty. Lee's treatment also stands in embarrassing contrast to that of John Deutch, former Deputy Secretary of Defense (1994-95) and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA - 1995-96), who had his security clearance revoked in August 1999 after investigators found his home computer contained classified information in violation of strict guidelines.

Notes: on February 17, a date of November 6 was set for the opening of Wen Ho Lee's trial.

On February 14, Dr. Andreas Toupadakis, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), resigned from his position and issued a dramatic 'open letter' which recounts his experience: "I came [to LLNL]… believing that weapons were being dismantled and help was needed to bury their deadly by-products. Instead I found myself being expected to work on the maintenance of nuclear weapons. … I came to realize that … all work at LLNL is directly or indirectly related to weapons."

Reports: Nuke scientist denied bail, Associated Press (AP), December 30; Secretary Richardson appoints panel to find head of new National Nuclear Security Administration, US Energy Department (DoE) Press Release R-99-342, December 30; Energy Department proceeds with implementation of National Nuclear Security Administration, US DoE Press Release R-00-006, January 7; Energy Department files nuclear plan, AP, January 8; FBI misled fired nuclear scientist, Associated Press, January 8; Lawyers seek release of jailed scientist, Reuters, January 19; US finds nuclear secrets in open archives, Reuters, January 19; Richardson releases task force against racial profiling report and announces 8 immediate actions, US DoE Press Release R-00-011, January 19; Secret nuke documents made public, AP, January 22; No bail urged for nuke scientist, AP, February 1; Reports say CIA data may have been compromised, Reuters, February 2; Sen. Wants ex-CIA chief to testify, AP, February 4; Lab weapons scientist quits to pursue anti-nuclear work, Tri-Valley Herald, February 15; Fired nuke scientist to go on trial in November, Reuters, February 17.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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