Data from classified system fuels legal debate in Wen Ho Lee case

Data from classified system fuels legal debate in Wen Ho Lee case

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Attorneys representing former Energy Department scientist Wen Ho Lee will be able to enter classified information into evidence during their client's trial.

A federal judge ruled early this month that data Lee allegedly downloaded as he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory is admissable. Lee, a naturalized citizen born in Taiwan, remains jailed without bond after pleading not guilty to 59 felony counts of mishandling classified information.

Neither the government nor Lee's attorneys deny that the nuclear physicist transferred data from a secure computer loaded with classified information to an unsecured system, according to documents filed in the U.S District Court of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The evidence

FBI agents recovered evidence that Lee transferred at least 806M of classified data and copied data to 15 computer tapes, court documents show. Six of the tapes have been found; nine are missing.

Justice Department attorneys said the classified files transferred from systems in the lab's X Division, which does top-secret nuclear weapons research, contained enough information to build a small nuclear reactor.

The admittance of the data will give the defense attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses that Justice intends to call to prove that the files and one of the tapes constitute an electronic blueprint of a nuclear weapon, District Judge James A. Parker said in his ruling.

In the brief seeking to enter the data into evidence, Lee's attorneys maintained that they will use the data to impeach federal witnesses who plan to testify that Lee stole the crown jewels of the country's nuclear design know-how. Lee's attorneys contend that much of the information is in the public domain.

Lee has said the information contained in the files was related to his duties at the lab. Parker ruled that the files are necessary for Lee's attorneys to argue that contention.

But the legal drama over whether the classified information will be made public during the trial continues. Under the Classified Information Procedures Act, federal prosecutors can petition the court to use a summary of the material. Prosecutors can also request closed hearings, letting the judge determine which classified information is pertinent.

Parker said that if the two sides failed to reach an agreement, he would rule by month's end on what information to allow.

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