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Wen Ho Lee is a nuclear engineer who was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory when he was accused of being a Chinese spy.
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The 60-year-old Lee was set to retire at the end of 1999; instead, Richardson fired him on March 8, 1999, for unrelated security violations that had been uncovered by the W-88 investigation. On December 10, 1999, Lee was arrested and charged with 59 counts of mishandling national security information. Though the charges stopped short of espionage,
A brief biography of Wen Ho Lee was accused of downloading classified nuclear information from his own computer to a colleague’s non-secure computer and then onto 10 tapes, only three of which had been found in Lee’s office. He was denied bail, and spent the next eight months in solitary confinement in a federal prison.
By late August of 2000, when U.S. District Judge James A. Parker, who was hearing the case, agreed to release Lee on $1 million bail, the government’s case had virtually collapsed due to lack of solid evidence. A key FBI witness, agent Robert Messemer, admitted he had lied at Lee’s first bail hearing in December about the defendant’s alleged pattern of deception regarding his communication with Chinese officials—testimony that had largely contributed to the judge's order of solitary confinement.
On September 10, 2000, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was dropping 58 of 59 felony charges against Lee. As part of the deal, Lee agreed to plead guilty to a single felony count of mishandling federal defense information and was sentenced with time already served. Early in the case, Lee and his lawyers had charged that he had been targeted for investigation because he was Chinese, leading critics to accuse the Energy and Justice Departments of engaging in a particularly damaging brand of racial-profiling. The settlement was seen as a major embarrassment for the government, most notably Attorney General Janet Reno and embattled Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, both of whom had pressed for Lee's firing and arrest.
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