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SSIT Publications > News >
Correspondence Re: Dr. Wen Ho Lee

In this section:

June 6, 2000

Hon. Janet Reno
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Ms. Reno:

The following position in regards to Dr. Wen Ho Lee was unanimously approved by the governing board of the Society on the Social Implications of Technology of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). We would certainly welcome the opportunity to provide additional information regarding our position at your request.

Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born American citizen, worked for almost 20 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory on nuclear weapons design. For several years, he has been under investigation by various federal agencies who suspect him of espionage. In particular, he is accused of downloading sensitive data in computer-readable form onto tapes that
he accessed via his computer work station.

He was indicted by the federal government in December of 1999 on charges of Receipt of Restricted Data and Tampering with Restricted Data, in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, and Gathering, Transmitting or Losing Defense Information, in violation of the Espionage Act. The government alleges that in these activities, Dr. Lee possessed an intent to aid a foreign power, but does not charge him with actual assistance or the transfer of protected information.  Significantly, the prosecuting U.S. Attorney has stated that the government does not claim "that Lee passed any information to any foreign government, including the People's Republic of China". No evidence has been presented suggesting either an ideological or financial motive for Lee's alleged conduct.

Despite the limited nature of these charges, the government has consistently relied upon conjecture and speculation to argue against Dr. Lee's right to bail pending trial. Under the Bail Reform Act, persons accused of the violations pending against Dr. Lee are eligible for release unless the government demonstrates by the high standard of clear and convincing evidence that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community. In a hearing concerning detention, the government asserted, in relevant part, that the data allegedly downloaded by Dr. Lee was of such gravity as to "change the strategic global balance" and "represents the gravest possible risk to the United States". On this basis, Dr. Lee's petition for reasonable release conditions, which include agreement to strict monitoring and travel limitations, have been denied by the district and appellate courts.

We are troubled that the courts have been influenced by assertions which contain no specific evidence about the data which Dr. Lee is alleged to have obtained. Significantly, subsequent to the courts' bail decisions, the government has admitted that the files at issue, while sensitive, were not designated as secret or confidential as was alleged in the indictment relied upon by the courts.  It has been further reported that the actual designation is not a security classification at all, but a protocol for the processing of data. Finally, it has been disclosed that over 20 of the security designations alleged within the indictment were made during the investigation itself - AFTER Dr. Lee's alleged activities. These reclassifications were not reported to the court. Evidence directly supporting the government's assertion that the data contains direct threats to the safety of the community has at no time been disclosed.

Based on the grounds outlined above, Dr. Lee has been denied bond and has been made the subject of extremely harsh detention conditions including complete segregation, being shackled when moved about the prison, limited access to media and greatly restricted visitation rights.  It is axiomatic that these circumstances, apart from being cruel, severely limit his ability to participate in his own defense. While we do not make any assertions about Dr. Lee's ultimate guilt or innocence, as a society concerned with the use and understanding of technology, we are disturbed that the evidence presented in support of
the severe sanctions imposed, prior to conviction, is scientifically and technically misleading and, at times, inaccurate.  That these representations have been found to meet the high standard imposed for pre-trial detention and now serve as the basis for Dr. Lee's severe treatment is deeply troubling to our sense of justice. We therefore urge that the conditions of pretrial detention of Dr. Lee and the denial of bail be reconsidered without delay.


Karl Perusich, Ph.D.
Society on the Social Implications of Technology

Justice Department Response (PDF)

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