The following editorial appeared in Thursday's Los Angeles Times:
Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh have presented the case for the prosecution of Wen Ho Lee to Congress, asserting that the government had the evidence to convict the former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist on all 59 felony counts originally pressed against him. Why then did the government resolve the case with a plea bargain under which Lee admitted to a single count of mishandling sensitive information? Because, according to Freeh, it feared a trial could expose important nuclear secrets. Besides, Reno and Freeh insisted, their aim from the beginning was to find out what Lee did with the information -- reportedly 400,000 pages worth -- that he illicitly downloaded from lab computers. As part of his deal with the government Lee has promised to provide answers.
This unapologetic defense of the government's handling of the case evades some central issues. One is what Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., described as the FBI's "gravely flawed" investigation at Los Alamos. Another is the prosecution's misstatements to the court, which caused U.S. District Judge James A. Parker to complain that he had been "led astray," in other words deceived. Finally, there has been no credible explanation for the near-totalitarian conditions under which Lee was held for nine months, including denial of bail, solitary confinement and frequent shackling.
There's no doubt Lee committed a serious crime, though it remains far from clear whether he did so with intent to harm the United States, as originally charged. There's no doubt either that this bungled affair requires more than the self-serving critique provided by the Justice Department and FBI.
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