Wen Ho Lee life and biography

Wen Ho Lee picture, image, poster

Wen Ho Lee biography

Date of birth : 1939-12-21
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Nantou, Taiwan
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-12-19
Credited as : scientist, Allegedly spied for China, created simulations of nuclear explosions

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Wen Ho Lee is a Taiwanese American scientist who worked for the University of California at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He created simulations of nuclear explosions for the purposes of scientific inquiry, as well as for improving the safety and reliability of the US nuclear arsenal.

A federal grand jury indicted him of stealing secrets about U.S. nuclear arsenal for the People's Republic of China (PRC) in December 1999.After federal investigators were unable to prove these initial accusations, the government conducted a separate investigation and was ultimately only able to charge Lee with improper handling of restricted data, one of the original 59 indictment counts, to which he pleaded guilty as part of a plea settlement. In June 2006, Lee received $1.6 million from the federal government and five media organizations as part of a settlement of a civil suit he had filed against them for leaking his name to the press before any formal charges had been filed against him.Federal judge James A. Parker eventually apologized to Lee for denying him bail and putting him in solitary, and excoriated the government for misconduct and misrepresentations to the court.

Lee was born in 1939 in Nantou, Taiwan. He graduated from Keelung High School in the northern part of the island in 1959, after which he attended National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, where he graduated with a bachelor's of science in mechanical engineering in 1963. In "My Country Versus Me", he describes life as being harsh. His father died when Lee was very young. His mother suffered from Asthma and eventually committed suicide so that she would not 'burden' the family. He was a young boy in Taiwan when Chiang Kai-shek's forces put down a communist-instigated insurgency.

Taiwan was placed under martial law; his brother died when he was a conscript and his commanding officers allegedly wouldn't allow him to take medicine. Lee, however, overcame these odds. He had what he describes as a wonderful teacher in the 6th grade who encouraged his intellectual abilities. His relatives did too. Eventually he made his way to university, where he became enamored of fluid dynamics and their beautiful mathematics.Lee came to the United States in 1965 to continue his studies in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University. He received his doctorate in 1969 and became a U.S. citizen in 1974.

He was employed at industrial and government research firms before he moved to New Mexico in 1978. He worked as a scientist in weapons design at Los Alamos National Laboratory in applied mathematics and fluid dynamics from that year until 1999. He created simulation programs for nuclear explosions, which were used to gain scientific understanding and help maintain the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

Lee is married and has two grown children. In his book, My Country Versus Me, he describes his love of classical music (before 1911, he says, the year Mahler died), literature, poetry, fishing in the mountains of New Mexico, and his dedication to organic gardening.

Lee won a $1.6 million settlement from the U.S. Federal government and several news organizations for privacy violations. He is now retired and lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife. He has published an applied physics textbook that he started writing while still in prison. He has now started to write a second physics textbook and would like to teach, but no institutions to which he has applied have responded to his requests.

Lee was publicly named by United States Department of Energy officials, including then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, as a suspect in the theft of classified nuclear-related documents from Los Alamos. Richardson was criticized by the Senate for his handling of the espionage inquiry by not testifying in front of Congress sooner. Richardson justified his response by saying that he was waiting to uncover more information before speaking to Congress.

Lee was indicted on 59 counts, jailed in solitary confinement for nine months, and released on time served after the government's case against him could not be proven. He was ultimately charged with only one count of mishandling sensitive documents that did not require pre-trial solitary confinement, while the other 58 counts were dropped.

President Bill Clinton issued a public apology to Lee over his treatment by the federal government during the investigation.Lee filed a lawsuit to gain the names of public officials who had leaked his name to journalists before charges had been filed against him. It raised issues similar to those in the Valerie Plame affair, of whether journalists should have to reveal their anonymous sources in a court of law. Lee's lawsuit was settled by the federal government in 2006 just before the Supreme Court was set to decide whether to hear the case.The federal judge who heard the case during an earlier appeal said that "top decision makers in the executive branch" "have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen."

An investigation of Lee found that he had been invited to China to speak with scientists on two occasions in the 1980s. During the investigation, and after being confronted with questions about his actions and behavior, Lee reported that he had been approached ten years earlier on his second visit to China by two scientists who requested that he assist them and China with the development of nuclear missiles. Lee further admitted that he failed to report this contact and approach by individuals requesting classified information as required by security regulations.

The examination of Lee's computer determined that he had taken classified work documents, deleted the security classification headers, and then transferred these files from a system used for processing classified data onto another protected but unclassified network. After the FBI discovered Lee's transfer, they revoked his badge access and clearance, including his ability to access the data from the unclassified but secure network. Lee then requested from a colleague in another part of Los Alamos that he be allowed to use his computer, at which time he transferred the data to a third unclassified computer network. FBI analysts later examined the unclassified computer and noted that the files that Lee had transferred had been accessed from a computer at the Student Union of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) on over forty occasions. Because of the vast number of users who used the computers at the UCLA Student Union and the lack of logs of users, the FBI was unable to determine which entity gained access to the Los Alamos data.

On December 23, 1998, Lee was given a polygraph test by the FBI. He was not told of the reason why, other than that it involved his latest trip to China to escort his nephew. He was told that he passed the test, but was stripped of his Q (classified) clearance in the LANL's classified section. Although he questioned the action against him, Lee followed along, deleting the classified information he held on his computers and moved to the T (unclassified) clearance zone. He was later subjected to three more polygraph tests before being told that re-evaluation of the test results showed that Lee had failed all of them.

Wen Ho Lee pleaded guilty to one felony count of "retention" of "national defense information". In return, the government released him from jail and dropped the other 58 counts against him. Judge James A. Parker offered an apology to Lee for denying him bail, and he excoriated the government for what he called "abuse of power" in its prosecution of its case.Later, President Bill Clinton remarked that he had been "troubled" by the way Lee was treated.

Initially, government attorneys said Lee had stolen the "crown jewels" of U.S. nuclear weaponry science and intended to turn them over to a foreign power. But the government was eventually forced to acknowledge that the material was marked "restricted" rather than classified "top secret" and that "99 percent" of the material was already available to the public.

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