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Nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee charged with 59 counts in Los Alamos case

FBI agents arrested Lee at his home outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico  

December 10, 1999
Web posted at: 6:18 p.m. EST (2318 GMT)

In this story:

Prosecutions rare


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Wen Ho Lee was indicted on 59 counts of violating the Federal Atomic Energy Act and the Federal Espionage Act on Friday, U.S. Attorney John Kelly said at a news conference.

Each count in the indictment deals with the possession, transfer, removal, concealment and other types of mishandling of classified information.

However, Lee is not charged with spying -- or giving classified information to a foreign government.

Nuclear spying

Kelly said each count under the Espionage Act -- the least punitive of the two acts, could carry a 10-year prison sentence. Under the Atomic Energy Act, he faces up to a life sentence. Both statutes carry possible $250,000 fines.

Lee's lawyer Mark Holscher said his client would fight the charges.

"We are extremely disappointed by the Justice Department's refusal to explore approaches which would establish that Dr. Lee did not in any way criminally violate the laws of the United States while working as an employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory," he said.

Justice Department officials had been debating for months whether to charge Lee with violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

He was taken into custody near his home in New Mexico without incident.

Los Alamos lab
Lee was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in March for alleged security violations  

Prosecutions rare

Although prosecutions on such matters have been extremely rare, some federal officials argued for an indictment because of the extreme sensitivity of the information Lee allegedly mishandled, namely nuclear weapons codes.

Such information is essentially the blueprint for many of the nation's most sophisticated nuclear weapons.

While FBI officials cannot prove Lee gave the data to anyone, they point to a number of suspicious facts they maintain may show gross negligence by Lee. As CNN first reported several weeks ago, he apparently cannot account for at least one computer tape containing nuclear code information.

According to officials familiar with the investigation, Lee also allegedly downloaded information from a secure computer to a non-secure computer; not once, but several times.

Lee, an American physicist who was born in Taiwan, has denied passing secrets to China. He was fired from the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico last March for alleged security violations.

Lee and some critics of the investigation say he was unfairly singled out because of his ethnicity.

China has steadfastly denied stealing U.S. nuclear secrets.

Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

CIA measures damage following leaked nuclear secrets
March 9, 1999
China denies spy link to fired U.S. scientist
March 9, 1999
China spy suspect fired by Energy Department
March 8, 1999
U.S. beefs up security, studies report of China nuclear spy
March 6, 1999
Clinton orders damage assessment of alleged Chinese espionage
February 2, 1999

Los Alamos National Laboratory
U.S. Department of Energy Home Page
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