Wen Ho Lee
Dr. Wen Ho Lee is a Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

-born Taiwanese American scientist who worked for the University of California
University of California
The University of California is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-tier public higher education system, which also includes the California State University...

 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

. He created simulations of nuclear explosions for the purposes of scientific inquiry, as well as for improving the safety and reliability of the US nuclear arsenal. A federal grand jury
Grand jury
A grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will issue. Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing...

 indicted him of stealing secrets about U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 nuclear arsenal
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 for the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 (PRC) in December 1999. After federal investigators were unable to prove these initial accusations, the government conducted a separate investigation and was ultimately only able to charge Lee with improper handling of restricted data, one of the original 59 indictment counts, to which he pleaded guilty as part of a plea settlement. In June 2006, Lee received $1.6 million from the federal government and five media organizations as part of a settlement of a civil suit he had filed against them for leaking his name to the press before any formal charges had been filed against him.
Federal judge James A. Parker eventually apologized to Lee for denying him bail and putting him in solitary, and excoriated the government for misconduct and misrepresentations to the court.

Early life

Lee was born in 1939 in Nantou, Taiwan. He graduated from Keelung High School in the northern part of the island in 1959, after which he attended National Cheng Kung University
National Cheng Kung University
National Cheng Kung University is a national university in Tainan City, Taiwan. Its abbreviation is NCKU. In Chinese, its name is shortened to 成大...

 in Tainan, Taiwan, where he graduated with a bachelor's of science in mechanical engineering in 1963. In "My Country Versus Me", he describes life as being harsh. His father died when Lee was very young. His mother suffered from Asthma and eventually committed suicide so that she would not 'burden' the family. He was a young boy in Taiwan when Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek was a political and military leader of 20th century China. He is known as Jiǎng Jièshí or Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng in Mandarin....

's forces put down a communist-instigated insurgency. Taiwan was placed under martial law; his brother died when he was a conscript and his commanding officers allegedly wouldn't allow him to take medicine. Lee, however, overcame these odds. He had what he describes as a wonderful teacher in the 6th grade who encouraged his intellectual abilities. His relatives did too. Eventually he made his way to university, where he became enamored of fluid dynamics
Fluid dynamics
In physics, fluid dynamics is a sub-discipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the natural science of fluids in motion. It has several subdisciplines itself, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics...

 and their beautiful mathematics.

Graduate education and career

Lee came to the United States in 1965 to continue his studies in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University is a coeducational public research university located in College Station, Texas . It is the flagship institution of the Texas A&M University System. The sixth-largest university in the United States, A&M's enrollment for Fall 2011 was over 50,000 for the first time in school...

. He received his doctorate in 1969 and became a U.S. citizen in 1974. He was employed at industrial and government research firms before he moved to New Mexico in 1978. He worked as a scientist in weapons design at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 in applied mathematics and fluid dynamics from that year until 1999. He created simulation programs for nuclear explosions, which were used to gain scientific understanding and help maintain the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

Personal life

Lee is married and has two grown children. In his book, My Country Versus Me, he describes his love of classical music (before 1911, he says, the year Mahler died), literature, poetry, fishing in the mountains of New Mexico, and his dedication to organic gardening.

Lee won a $1.6 million settlement from the U.S. Federal government and several news organizations for privacy violations. He is now retired and lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife. He has published an applied physics textbook that he started writing while still in prison. He has now started to write a second physics textbook and would like to teach, but no institutions to which he has applied have responded to his requests.

Government investigation

Lee was publicly named by United States Department of Energy
United States Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material...

 officials, including then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, as a suspect in the theft of classified nuclear-related documents from Los Alamos. Richardson was criticized by the Senate for his handling of the espionage inquiry by not testifying in front of Congress sooner. Richardson justified his response by saying that he was waiting to uncover more information before speaking to Congress.

Lee was indicted on 59 counts, jailed in solitary confinement
Solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact, though often with the exception of members of prison staff. It is sometimes employed as a form of punishment beyond incarceration for a prisoner, and has been cited as an additional...

 for nine months, and released on time served after the government's case against him could not be proven. He was ultimately charged with only one count of mishandling sensitive documents that did not require pre-trial solitary confinement, while the other 58 counts were dropped.

President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 issued a public apology to Lee over his treatment by the federal government during the investigation. Lee filed a lawsuit to gain the names of public officials who had leaked his name to journalists before charges had been filed against him. It raised issues similar to those in the Valerie Plame affair, of whether journalists should have to reveal their anonymous sources in a court of law. Lee's lawsuit was settled by the federal government in 2006 just before the Supreme Court was set to decide whether to hear the case. The federal judge who heard the case during an earlier appeal said that "top decision makers in the executive branch" "have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen."

Operation Kindred Spirit

An investigation of Lee found that he had been invited to China to speak with scientists on two occasions in the 1980s. During the investigation, and after being confronted with questions about his actions and behavior, Lee reported that he had been approached ten years earlier on his second visit to China by two scientists who requested that he assist them and China with the development of nuclear missiles. Lee further admitted that he failed to report this contact and approach by individuals requesting classified information as required by security regulations.

The examination of Lee's computer determined that he had taken classified work documents, deleted the security classification headers, and then transferred these files from a system used for processing classified data onto another protected but unclassified network. After the FBI discovered Lee's transfer, they revoked his badge access and clearance, including his ability to access the data from the unclassified but secure network. Lee then requested from a colleague in another part of Los Alamos that he be allowed to use his computer, at which time he transferred the data to a third unclassified computer network. FBI analysts later examined the unclassified computer and noted that the files that Lee had transferred had been accessed from a computer at the Student Union of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) on over forty occasions. Because of the vast number of users who used the computers at the UCLA Student Union and the lack of logs of users, the FBI was unable to determine which entity gained access to the Los Alamos data.

On December 23, 1998, Lee was given a polygraph
A polygraph measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions...

 test by the FBI. He was not told of the reason why, other than that it involved his latest trip to China to escort his nephew. He was told that he passed the test, but was stripped of his Q (classified) clearance in the LANL's classified section. Although he questioned the action against him, Lee followed along, deleting the classified information he held on his computers and moved to the T (unclassified) clearance zone. He was later subjected to three more polygraph tests before being told that re-evaluation of the test results showed that Lee had failed all of them.

Wen Ho Lee pleaded guilty to one felony count of "retention" of "national defense information". In return, the government released him from jail and dropped the other 58 counts against him. Judge James A. Parker offered an apology to Lee for denying him bail, and he excoriated the government for what he called "abuse of power" in its prosecution of its case. Later, President Bill Clinton remarked that he had been "troubled" by the way Lee was treated.

Initially, government attorneys said Lee had stolen the "crown jewels" of U.S. nuclear weaponry science and intended to turn them over to a foreign power. But the government was eventually forced to acknowledge that the material was marked "restricted" rather than classified "top secret" and that "99 percent" of the material was already available to the public.

Plays and films

The 2001 play "The Legacy Codes", by American playwright Cherylene Lee, deals with the Wen Ho Lee case.

The 2007 play Yellow Face
Yellow Face
Yellow Face is a play by David Henry Hwang, featuring the author himself as the protagonist. It premiered in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum in association with East West Players and had its Off-Broadway premiere at the Joseph Papp Public Theater...

 by Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang is an American playwright who has risen to prominence as the preeminent Asian American dramatist in the U.S.He was born in Los Angeles, California and was educated at the Yale School of Drama and Stanford University...

 places this incident in context to a greater number of cases dealing with racial profiling
Racial profiling
Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement...

 against Asians, particularly the Chinese during the 1980s.

The 2010 short film The Profile, by American film maker Ray Arthur Wang
Ray Arthur Wang
Ray Arthur Wang is an American filmmaker/entrepreneur, known in particular for human and animal rights activism. He is also a retired concert pianist....

, is inspired by the Wen Ho Lee case.

See also

  • Cox Report
    Cox Report
    The Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, commonly known as the Cox Report after Representative Christopher Cox, is a classified U.S...

  • Timeline of Cox Report controversy
  • Espionage Act of 1917
    Espionage Act of 1917
    The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code but is now found under Title 18, Crime...

  • Thomas Andrews Drake
    Thomas Andrews Drake
    Thomas Andrews Drake is a former senior official of the U.S. National Security Agency , decorated United States Air Force and United States Navy veteran, computer software expert, linguist, management and leadership specialist, and whistleblower. In 2010 the government alleged that he 'mishandled'...

    , Stephen Jin-Woo Kim
    Stephen Jin-Woo Kim
    Stephen Jin-Woo Kim is a Senior Analyst at the Office of National Security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with a distinguished career in academia and government service. He lives in McLean, Virginia...

  • Dreyfus affair
    Dreyfus Affair
    The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

Further reading

  • Wen Ho Lee and Helen Zia
    Helen Zia
    Helen Zia is an American journalist and scholar who has covered Asian American communities and social and political movements for decades.-Life and career:...

    , My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy (Hyperion, 2003) ISBN 0-7868-8687-0.
  • Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, A Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage (Simon & Schuster, 2002) ISBN 0-7432-2378-0.
  • Notra Trulock, Code Name Kindred Spirit: Inside the Chinese Nuclear Espionage Scandal (Encounter Books, 2002) ISBN 1-893554-51-1.
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