ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee testified that he was a scapegoat for Energy Department security lapses and never knew why.
Former Energy Department counterintelligence chief Notra Trulock is suing Lee, claiming the Taiwanese-born scientist defamed him with allegations that Lee was targeted because of his race. Lee made his comments Oct. 10 in a deposition under questioning by Trulock's lawyer.
Lee faces further questioning in the suit. U.S. Magistrate Thomas Jones ruled recently that Lee's lawyer had wrongly objected to a number of questions that Lee should have been allowed to answer. The new deposition must be completed by Dec. 21.
In the October deposition, Lee denied making any statements about Trulock and said under questioning he didn't know whether he was singled out for selective prosecution, ethnic profiling or racial discrimination.
"Even today I don't know why I was investigated by the government," Lee said, testifying for the first time since his release from jail last year.
Referring to his only previous public statement about the case — the CBS-TV "60 Minutes" episode aired Aug. 1, 1999 — Lee emphasized Trulock was not mentioned then. "I don't even think about Mr. Trulock."
Lee acknowledged telling interviewer Mike Wallace: "They want to find out some scapegoat. They think I'm the perfect (one) for them to, to blame me."
"I don't know who started investigation on me. I'm telling Mr. Wallace I think part of the reason, my best explanation of this, is probably because I'm Chinese," he said during a seven-hour long deposition which was sealed for weeks for classification review. "But I don't know who start this."
Lee, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico was indicted Dec. 10, 1999, on 59 felony counts for transferring nuclear weapons data to unsecure computer terminals or computer tapes. He was held in solitary confinement for nine months.
He was not charged with spying, and denied giving information to China. He eventually pleaded guilty in September 2000 to one felony count of downloading sensitive material.
The judge in the case said prosecutors misled him, and he apologized to Lee. Then-President Clinton also said Lee's imprisonment "just can't be justified."
Lee has sued the government for allegedly leaking information to the media that made it appear he had spied.
One of his attorneys, Brian Sun, said Thursday that Lee's reticence about ethnic profiling was understandable since the government never turned over its evidence relating to selective prosecution.
"We were seeking the evidence," Sun said. "There was a plea resolution two days before that evidence was due. We don't know because we never did get access to the evidence."
Lee's criminal attorneys, Mark Holscher and John Cline, had cited statements by DOE intelligence officials Robert Vrooman and Charles Washington as evidence that Lee was racially singled out — and as reason for disclosure of whatever other evidence might exist.