WASHINGTON – The FBI began its investigation into nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee based on misleading reports from the Energy Department, a review of the bungled espionage inquiry concludes.
The report also faults the FBI for accepting the department's assessment.
The Energy Department's inquiry in 1996 "was a deeply flawed product whose shortcomings went unrecognized and unaddressed due to the FBI's own inadequate investigation," said the report.
The Justice Department released two heavily censored chapters of the report Monday. A judge ordered the release in a lawsuit filed by former Energy Department counter-intelligence chief Notra Trulock.
"To say that DOE misled the FBI and to say that DOE improperly focused its conclusion only on Wen Ho Lee is only to describe half the problem," said the report.
"The other half was the FBI's unfortunate and unwarranted acceptance of DOE's description" of Chinese nuclear capabilities and the FBI's "unhesitating and unquestioning acceptance of DOE's identification of Lee as 'the most logical suspect,"' said the report.
The report stated that at the very start, the Energy Department made "inaccurate representations" to the FBI.
The department had assembled a panel called the Kindred Spirit Analytical Group (KSAG) to assess possible Chinese theft of U.S. nuclear secrets.
The group concluded that U.S. secrets had been compromised and had helped the Chinese in determining what they could hope to achieve and how to "avoid blind alleys in their own research and development."
"What KSAG concluded, however, and what the FBI would be told these DOE experts had determined, were two different matters," the review stated.
"This inaccurate communication of the predicate resulted in the FBI spending years investigating the wrong crime."
Trulock is suing two other Energy Department investigators who said that Lee was targeted because of his race.
The report concluded that Lee wasn't targeted based on race, but said the DOE singled him out without considering other possible suspects.
Messages left with former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson were not immediately returned. DOE officials were reviewing the document.