WASHINGTON -- FBI crime laboratory and Energy Department experts have determined that none of more than 10 cassette tapes retrieved from the Los Alamos County Landfill are the infamous tapes of U.S. nuclear weapons secrets made by Wen Ho Lee, Clinton administration officials said Thursday.
The finding raises fresh doubts about the Taiwanese American scientist's assertion that he tossed the tapes into the trash at Los Alamos National Laboratory in January 1999. But, officials were quick to point out, they have no physical evidence to disprove Lee's story, either.
When federal prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain that let Lee out of jail in September, they thought they were trading his freedom for answers. But the mysteries of the case have only deepened, and investigators from the FBI and Energy Department are reluctantly concluding that they may never know what happened, officials close to the investigation said.
After questioning Lee under oath behind closed doors for 10 days in recent weeks and after digging through a giant pile of trash, the FBI still is not sure why he made the tapes or exactly what he did with them.
Moreover, investigators have determined that Lee made at least 10 trips to Taiwan over the past 25 years, many more than they had realized.
They also have raised their estimate of the number of tapes he made from the classified computer system at the laboratory's X Division, where Lee worked and where most of America's nuclear weapons were designed.
Originally, there were said to be seven missing tapes, based on notations found in Lee's notebooks. Now, the FBI believes there may be several times that number; Lee has said he cannot remember exactly how many he made, according to officials familiar with the investigation.
Efforts to reach Lee's lawyers for comment were unsuccessful.
Under the terms of Lee's plea agreement, the 10 days of questioning granted the government are over; the only step left for the government is to administer a polygraph or "lie detector" exam.
"If he shows deception" on the fundamental questions of why he made the tapes and whether he destroyed them, a senior official said, "we are right back where we were when we first discovered what he had done."
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