Wen Ho Lee

From Academic Kids

Wen Ho Lee (李文和, pinyin: Lǐ Wénhé) (born 1939) is a Chinese American computer scientist who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was accused of stealing secrets about the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal for China, though eventually only convicted of improper handling of classified data.

The investigation into whether China had conducted successful nuclear espionage occurred after an intelligence agent from the People's Republic of China (PRC) gave U.S. agents papers which indicated that they knew the design of a particularly modern U.S. warhead (a compact thermonuclear design used for MIRVed warheads). In particular, Lee was suspected for having given the PRC copies of "weapons codes," computer code used for simulations of nuclear testing. The advantage of such codes would not be that they would necessarily tell a PRC scientist how to develop a weapon, but would have given the PRC the results of many American tests, which would potentially allow them to make up for the fact that they had performed a relatively few number of tests before halting their testing program.

It was soon determined that the design data the PRC had obtained could not have come from the Los Alamos Lab, because it related to information that would only have been available to someone like a so-called "downstream" contractor, meaning one involved in the final warhead production process, and this information was only created after the weapon design left the Lab.

After an intensive forensic examination of Lee's office computer, it was determined that he had backed up his work files, which were not classified at the time, onto tapes, and had also transferred the files from a system used for processing classified data onto another, also highly secure, system designated for unclassified data. With this in hand, the government then retroactively redesignated the data Lee had copied, changing it from its former designation of PARD (Protect As Restricted Data) to a new designation of Secret, giving them the crime they needed for a formal charge. Lee was arrested in December 1999 but freed in August 2000 after he accepted a plea bargain from the federal government.

Wen Ho Lee pled guilty to one felony count of improperly downloading classified data. In return, the government released him from jail and dropped the other 58 counts of illegally downloading classified data from the computers at the Los Alamos weapons lab. The judge assigned to hear the case apologized for Lee's nine months of incarceration.

Born in Nantou, Taiwan, Lee got his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cheng Kung University. He received a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1969.

External link

Further reading

  • Wen Ho Lee and Helen Zia, My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy (Hyperion, 2003) ISBN 0786886870.
  • Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, A Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage (Simon & Schuster, 2002) ISBN 0743223780.
  • Notra Trulock, Code Name Kindred Spirit: Inside the Chinese Nuclear Espionage Scandal (Encounter Books, 2002) ISBN 1893554511.
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