ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Wen Ho Lee is about to be free of the constraints of a plea agreement reached one year ago this week after a bungled government investigation of the nuclear scientist. But in many ways, Lee's battle is just beginning.
A presidential pardon effort and a TV miniseries are in the works. A book about his ordeal is close to being published. And another lawsuit is moving forward as Lee alleges the government invaded his privacy with inaccurate, illegal and defamatory news leaks suggesting he was a spy.
Despite his legal problems, friends and relatives say Lee, 61, a Taiwanese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, has flourished in the year since his release.
``It would take a whole lot more than that to break him,'' says neighbor Jo Starling, the fifth-grade teacher for Lee's daughter, Alberta.
Starling and other Lee supporters were considering flying flags on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the plea deal. They also hope to gather 5,000 signatures by then for a letter to President Bush seeking a pardon.
Lee faced life in prison and spent nine months in solitary confinement after the government charged him with 59 counts of breaching national security for allegedly stealing the ``crown jewels'' of U.S. nuclear weaponry science.
Lee pleaded guilty to one count, and the other 58 were dropped. He admitted using an unsecure computer to download a defense document and agreed to cooperate with authorities.
That has involved giving up weeks to undergo FBI questioning and being available for follow-up questioning until Sept. 13, 2001. If agents disbelieved Lee, the case could have reopened.
Lee also has spent time fishing, gardening, cooking and co-writing a book about his struggle, ``My Country Versus Me,'' due out next month.
Separately, a four-hour ABC miniseries could be broadcast as soon as next May, publicist Alys Shanti said in Los Angeles.
Lee's lawyers are moving to take depositions from former FBI director Louis Freeh, former attorney general Janet Reno, ex-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and others.
A Justice Department report written by federal prosecutor Randy Bellows suggests Freeh was not fully advised on the Lee case as agents continued to focus an espionage investigation on Lee for at least two years after CIA assurances that Lee was no spy.
Reno has declined to comment about the case since leaving office. Former U.S. Attorney John Kelly also declined comment.
``The heroes of the case are not the prosecutors or the FBI, the usual people who wear the white hats,'' Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz said. ``The heroes are the hardworking defense attorneys, Wen Ho Lee's family and a partial hero, the judge, for having the guts to say what he said.''
U.S. District Judge James Parker apologized for keeping Lee jailed under isolated conditions reserved for dangerous inmates. Parker said the Justice and Energy departments misled him about Lee's actions and ``embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it.''
``The government locked itself into a position by using overheated rhetoric and overcharging, then found it difficult to pull back,'' Dershowitz said.
Lee's memoir, being published by Hyperion Books and undergoing a classification review, is a story that highlights his case and experience in solitary confinement, where he was handcuffed and forced to wear leg shackles even during exercise periods. He was allowed visits only from his wife, children and lawyers. Phone calls were difficult to arrange.
``It's the story of a very patriotic man who found himself caught up in these incredible events,'' said Hyperion editor in chief Will Schwalbe.
Attorneys bound by secrecy requirements still cannot discuss what Lee told investigators during the past year. The lack of public disclosure frustrated many.
``I call it the year of living silently,'' said Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.
Meanwhile, in an irony that echoes the charges against Lee, the civil lawsuit filed by attorney Brian Sun alleges government officials mishandled classified material, too, by leaking it to the press.
Among the leaks cited in the lawsuit were details of an FBI interrogation of Lee in March 1999 in which the scientist was threatened with execution ``like the Rosenbergs'' if he did not change his story.
``We intend to vigorously prosecute this case,'' Sun said, ``not only on behalf of our client but also because we think it's the right thing to do and we want to send a message to governmental agencies that they can't be manipulating the media in these high profile cases to further their goals.''