Judge agrees to bail, scientist to be electronically monitored
By Sam Chu Lin & Wire Reports
A federal judge has agreed to $1 million bail for a scientist accused of mishandling U.S. nuclear secrets, saying that releasing Wen Ho Lee-who will be under constant surveillance-won’t compromise the nation’s security.
U.S. District Judge James Parker said on Aug. 24 that the information presented by the government in the case “no longer has the requisite clarity and persuasive character necessary to keep Lee in jail pending his trial.”
Parker, who denied Lee’s second bid for freedom last December, ordered the government finalize conditions for Lee’s release by noon Friday. It would require the 60-year-old Lee to remain at his White Rock home under electronic monitoring and allow federal authorities to inspect his mail and monitor his phone calls.
“He should have been released long ago,” commented Mark Holscher, one of Lee’s attorneys. “If Judge Parker had been provided a complete record in December, we believe Dr. Lee would not have spent the last eight months in solitary confinement in shackles.”
Brian Sun, the Lee family’s attorney, is taking the news with caution. A prosecutor has announced the government is likely to appeal. If that does happen, the release could be delayed up to two weeks, Sun said.
Lee is charged with 59 counts alleging he transferred restricted data to unsecured computers and tapes at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was fired last year and has been in jail since his arrest Dec. 10. His trial is set for November.
Lee had been denied bail three times. But Parker changed his mind after a hearing last week in which Lee’s lawyers cast doubt on the solidity of the government’s case and just how sensitive the nuclear material was.
“I conclude that there now is a combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of Dr. Lee as required and the safety of the community and the nation,” Parker wrote in an order.
Lee’s daughter, Alberta Lee, 28, sobbed with relief. “I’m just so happy he’s going to be able to go home, eat his own food, sleep in his own bed,” she said. “It’s the best day in a long time.”
Lee’s attorneys, Holscher and John Cline, said they were pleased and “will do everything in our power to prevent him from being placed in jail again.”
During the hearing, chief prosecutor George Stamboulidis, arguing against Lee’s release, contended Lee could help someone build a bomb or help a country bolster its nuclear program if he is released from jail. “The breadth of the potential harm is so great that … even a reduced risk is too great to take that gamble,” he said.
Holscher, however, said there is no evidence Lee “has the political motivation, the financial motivation or the destructive intent” to do anything harmful with the material he is accused of downloading.
In court, an FBI agent whose testimony was a key in denying bail to Lee previously, acknowledged inaccuracies in his earlier testimony. Moreover, those testifying for Lee said much of the information in question was available in open literature, could not be used to make a bomb and was not even classified secret at the time.
Victor Hwang, managing attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, said: “We’re ecstatic he’s being released. The conditions, while restrictive, are livable restrictions.”
Hwang said he believes Parker picked up on a change in government theories.
“They’ve shifted from the idea of his being a spy to someone who broke the rules in a job search,” Hwang said. “I think what’s been inconsistent is what they’ve charged him with, this mishandling of classified information, and the rhetoric they’ve used to keep him in jail … which is that he could harm the United States.”
Parker this week granted friend-of-the-court status to the caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union to file briefs in support of disclosing any evidence that Lee was singled out for prosecution because of ethnic bias.
California state Assemblyman Mike Honda, who has called for fair treatment and “due process” for Lee, said, “I think the reasoning for Judge Parker’s conclusion should give some assurances to those who have been supporting Dr. Lee.”
Pointing out the similarities between the U.S. government’s treatment of Lee and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, the San Jose legislator noted that in both cases, “proper procedures have not been followed; sacpegoating seems to be involved; and a government ‘Goliath’ is taking advantage of its size and weight against a ‘David.’”
Under the judge’s plan, Lee could leave home only in the company of at least one attorney, and could go only to court or to the Los Alamos lab to help with his defense. He would be required to telephone federal court offices in Albuquerque twice a day.
The only other person who could live at the home is Lee’s wife, Sylvia. Mrs. Lee could leave only after notifying authorities of where she was going and why and when she would return. Law enforcement agents could search her.
Lee’s children could come for visits arranged with the court and federal law enforcement authorities.
The $1 million bond would be secured by Lee’s property and that of his brother and sister-in-law, Lucky and Patty Lee, and his next-door neighbors, Don and Jean Marshall. Some 15 friends and relatives offered their property as collateral for bail last week. That property, combined with Lee’s own, was worth about $2.2 million, defense attorneys said. This week, however, Alberta Lee said of the bail, “We are covering it ourselves.”
The Marshalls will be Lee’s third-party custodians, and one of them must be present when Lee checks in with court officials by phone twice a day. Marshall said he could not comment on the case, but he added: “We certainly believe he is not involved in espionage.”
Later Marshall told the Associated Press in a telephone interview on Aug. 25 from his home in White Rock, New Mexico, next door to Lee’s one-story, wood-frame home, “Basically, if you are going to be a good friend, you are called on to do things that under other circumstances you would not be involved in.”
Marshall, a colleague and friend for 20 years, described Lee as a gentle man with a sense of humor, a passion for gardening and fishing and a love of classical music and novels. He said he had not talked to Lee in months and that he missed his friend.
Marshall, a scientist for the past 28 years in the top-secret X-Division where Lee also worked, said many of Lee’s neighbors also are looking forward to his return.
“We’re happy that he’s going to be released,” Marshall said. “I’m hoping he will be allowed to work outside in his yard, in his garden. That’s something he really knows how to do.”
Alberta Lee, who lives in San Francisco, flew to Albuquerque, N.M. last weekend. She commented: “The is another example of how the truth is starting to come out. We have innocence and truth on our side. I am sure he will be exonerated.”
But she emphasized the fight is only beginning and help is needed from the community. She pointed out that her father’s attorneys have been assisting their client pro bono, while the federal government is useing all of its power to build its case against him.
“We are in a David-and-Goliath situation,” she said, “and we are going to need all the help we can get.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article. For more information on the Wen Ho Lee case, visit www.wenholee.org or www.usdoj.org.