Ethnicity not a factor in Wen Ho Lee probe

WASHINGTON, The Washington Post

Federal investigators did not target former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee based on his ethnicity, according to a classified report that is otherwise highly critical of the conduct of the FBI and Energy Department during the probe.

The internal report by federal prosecutor Randy Bellows, a version of which is scheduled to be released publicly next week, says that while the government’s espionage investigation of Lee, a native of Taiwan, had many shortcomings, “racism was not one of them,” according to numerous people who have reviewed its findings.

“Recent allegations of racial bias in the selection of Wen Ho and Sylvia Lee are without merit,” the report concludes.

The report’s findings on racism, which have not been revealed previously, appear to contradict the accounts of at least two former Energy Department officials. They include the former chief of counterintelligence, Robert Vrooman, who has said in sworn statements that Lee was targeted for investigation of whether he leaked nuclear secrets to mainland China based largely on his race.

Bellows’ review, completed in May 2000, is certain to figure prominently in a defamation lawsuit by another energy official who claims he was wrongly accused of racism in the case.

Lee, who was jailed on 59 felony counts of mishandling classified information and violating the Atomic Energy Act, pleaded guilty last September to a single felony charge of mishandling classified information after the government’s case largely fell apart in court.

Lee has indicated in press reports and court filings that he believes he was singled out because he is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was a Taiwan native.

The case prompted condemnations from Asian-American leaders, who accused the government of engaging in racial profiling and stereotyping in its flawed investigation of Lee. Those problems, including allegations that the FBI moved too slowly, was sloppy in its investigative methods and may have failed to detect other national security breaches, were revealed last year, after Bellows completed his report.

Notra Trulock III, a former energy official who has filed a defamation lawsuit against Lee, said the Bellows findings on race bolster his suit, which alleges that Lee authorized supporters to accuse Trulock of racism on the scientist’s Web site. A federal magistrate in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, who is hearing the case has demanded portions of the Bellows report from the Justice Department, which has tentatively scheduled the report’s release for Monday.

“I feel that I am exonerated,” said Trulock, 53, who left the Energy Department in August 1999 and is currently unemployed. “I knew that racial profiling had not been employed and that certainly I’m not a racist. Finally, hopefully, this is a turn in the right direction. I’ve got to see it to believe it.”

Larry Klayman, Trulock’s lead attorney and chairman of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch, said that “obviously, this helps make our case against Wen Ho Lee.”

Lee’s lead attorney, Los Angeles lawyer Mark Holscher, said he had no comment on the racism issue. “We have not seen the Bellows report and can t comment on any of the rumors regarding its contents,” he said.

The 800-page Bellows report stems from an internal probe into the mainland Chinese espionage investigation ordered by former Attorney General Janet Reno in May 1999, shortly after Lee was fired from his job.

Lee and his wife, Sylvia, have filed a civil suit against the FBI, the Justice Department and Energy Department alleging that Lee’s privacy was violated by government leaks of his name to the press during the investigation. Lee is also currently locked in a dispute with federal government censors over whether his forthcoming autobiography violates security rules.

Lee has alleged in court documents that his ethnicity played a role in his being targeted as an espionage suspect at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.