Wen Ho Lee celebrates birthday as free man

FOSTER CITY, California, AP

A year after turning 60 in solitary confinement, Wen Ho Lee celebrated his 61st birthday basking in freedom and surrounded by those who supported him during his months in the vortex of a spy scandal.

“Today, I don’t remember all the difficult time of the last year,” a smiling Lee said Thursday in a brief statement to reporters.

His daughter Alberta sat beside him, her eyes welling with tears. Asked which moments had been hardest for her in the past 12 months, she paused for a while. “There were a lot of moments,” she said finally. “Probably visiting him in jail was the hardest.” Lee, a former nuclear scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was indicted Dec. 10, 1999, on 59 criminal counts that he mishandled nuclear weapons secrets. He spent nine months in solitary confinement in a New Mexico jail.

Lee was never charged him with espionage, and he has sworn he never passed secrets to any unauthorized person. He was freed Sept. 13, when he pleaded guilty to one count of illegally downloading restricted data to an unsecure tape. Fifty-eight counts were dropped. Lee is writing a book and also has filed a civil lawsuit against the government alleging that his privacy was violated by a smear campaign.