Monday, June 12, 2006

Wen Ho, Rep. Cox, UC, and The Gov. (our own)

The Wen Ho Lee Scandal

by Gordon Prather

For those of you watching with interest – perhaps with horror – the Wen Ho Lee saga as it has been unfolding, there are several bits of pertinent information that you may not have been given – until now.

Chairman Chris Cox – of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China – wants to be Speaker of the House.
DOE Secretary Bill Richardson – former representative for New Mexico's 3rd District (which includes Los Alamos) – wants to be governor of New Mexico.
The Board of Regents of the University of California operates – and has operated from Day 1 – the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California for the Department of Energy.

After completing most of its assigned work about People's Republic of China launches of U.S. satellites, almost as an afterthought, the Cox Committee listened to some testimony from DOE "counterspooks" about Clinton administration so-far successful attempts to thwart their investigation and prosecution of PRC "moles" at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.

Cox took all this testimony at the eleventh hour from the aggrieved "counterspooks" – who were not experts on nukes – and as Cox Committee Member John Spratt later wrote, "The committee did not have time to call the senior statesmen of the nuclear labs, like Harold Agnew (from Los Alamos) and Johnny Foster (from Lawrence Livermore) for their perspective. Partly because of haste, there are statements in the report that will not stand scrutiny."

Indeed they would not. The "classified" version of the Cox Committee report was filed on Jan. 3, 1999, and much of it was promptly leaked. By the time the "redacted" version of the Cox Committee Report was made available on March 25, 1999, much of the damage to the labs and lab scientists had already been done.

Even though most of the Cox Report was about missile guidance systems and satellite launches, the media frenzy that developed – after the classified version was filed, but long before the "redacted" version was made available to the public – was mostly about the charges in Chapter II of the "decades long" penetration of the U.S. nuke labs by PRC moles.

The name of one suspected PRC mole – Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee – was almost immediately leaked. It was also leaked that the counterspooks had evidence that Wen Ho had given the secret of the W-88 to the PRC back in 1985.

There were congressional demands that Wen Ho be fired, and two days later Secretary Richardson announced that he had fired Wen Ho Lee. Of course, he had not actually fired him.

Wen Ho was an employee of the University of California and Richardson – as Secretary of Energy had no authority to fire him.

But he could, and perhaps did, threaten to take away the UC contract to manage Los Alamos if they didn't fire him.

Which they did, instantly, without due process.

The Cox Committee Report charged that the PRC had infiltrated Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore "decades ago" and had, over a period of time, stolen the "crown jewels" of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and development programs.

Nevertheless, Chairman Cox said we should not blame the PRC for its spying, nor did Cox blame – much to Richardson's relief – the Clinton administration for allowing the spying to happen. (In fact, just to show how little blame Cox attaches to President Clinton and the PRC, Cox voted for Perpetual Normal Trading Relations with the PRC, a vote that would appear to be anathema to the Cox Report.)

After all, most of the PRC spying, according to Cox and Richardson, happened under previous Republican administrations.

So who did Chairman Cox and Secretary Richardson blame?

The UC Board of Regents, that's who.

After filing his report, Chairman Cox publicly demanded – and other congressmen joined in the chorus – that the contract to manage Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos be taken away from the University of California.

That was just fine with governor-wannabe Richardson, who has long wanted to take the contract to operate Los Alamos away from UC and give it to the University of New Mexico.

So where does Wen Ho Lee fit into all this?

Cox and Richardson were beginning to look like fools for blaming UC, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.

The Cox Report charges that Richardson et al. leaked about moles and nukes, in general, and about Wen Ho Lee, in particular, had turned out to be groundless.

But wouldn't you know it, after Richardson had "fired" Wen Ho, the countersnoops searched his office and his computer and all his local area network transactions, and they discovered that Wen Ho had apparently copied – they can't find the copies – a huge number of "legacy" files. None of these so-called legacy files were classified, individually, but when taken in aggregate, the Richardson claim is that they amount to a collection of the U.S. nuke "crown jewels."

Now, all this alleged spying by Wen Ho took place on President Clinton's watch and there is good reason to blame Clinton nuke policies towards the PRC for it.

Nevertheless, governor-wannabe Richardson and speaker-wannabe Cox will try to tell you the Wen Ho discovery proves that they knew what they were talking about – when they were demanding that the contracts to manage Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore be taken away from the UC Regents – all along.

But they didn't.

June 12, 2006

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy-implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. – ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

And more in the same vein (-mainlining the news):

Column: When bad confidential sources lead to costly consequences

By William B. Ketter
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Kenny Rogers' hit song "The Gambler" contains advice five major news organizations took to heart last week in the Wen Ho Lee lawsuit against the federal government for leaking disinformation about him to journalists.

The lyrics advise that if you play poker for money, you should learn to play the cards right | and that means "you got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run."

The news outlets held bad cards in Lee's case and they knew it. So they folded and walked away from the litigation by agreeing to join the government in paying $1.6 million to the aggrieved nuclear scientist, putting an end to this messy legal matter.

The media slice was $750,000, divided equally among ABC News, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press. The payment amounted to a rare pack admission that reporters had been duped by anonymous government tipsters into wrongly portraying Lee as a likely Chinese spy.

Gasps of surprise and concern rattled the world of journalism. How could five of this country's largest news organizations conjoin with the government in settling a case that involved the right of reporters to publish, then protect information obtained from confidential sources? Even when the scoop turned out to be wrong. Wouldn't this encourage others who feel maltreated in the media to initiate similar action?

Lawyer Jane Kirtley, a national press law expert, went so far as to call it "blood money" and predicted it will open the door to demands for cash in even the most ordinary mixup of news details resulting from confusion or unwitting mistakes by sources.

"The implications of this are just staggering," Kirtley told The New York Sun.

But are they? A close look at the elements of the Lee case say otherwise. Especially when you consider that journalists usually thoroughly examine the motive of confidential sources and the credibility of the details they leak in accusatory cases. It is risky to go with someone's unchecked word just because the source works for the government and has access to official records. And that includes investigators. They are mostly driven to get a conviction.

The confidential sources in the Wen Ho Lee case appeared to have an ax to grind. Otherwise, why wouldn't they go on the record?

Lee, an American citizen born in Taiwan, worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico seven years ago when the FBI suspected him of stealing nuclear secrets for China. Investigators went public by leaking information about his suspicious activities and private life to the press. Lee was later charged with espionage and spent nine months in solitary confinement awaiting trial.

Then the government admitted it didn't have evidence to support the espionage charge, dropped it, and accepted Lee's guilty plea to a lesser complaint of mishandling computer files containing sensitive security data. The judge in the case said Lee had been "terribly wronged" and apologized for the government's conduct.

Lee followed up with an invasion-of-privacy suit against the government, contending it unfairly tried to prove its espionage case by leaking questionable and damaging information to reporters. The journalists were not listed as defendants but their confidential sources were central to proving Lee's complaint. So he asked the court to require the reporters to disclose them. They declined on the ground they had a legal obligation to protect their sources.

Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer disagreed because Lee's case rested entirely on identifying the government agents who deliberately targeted him with private information leaks that morphed into unfavorable news stories. She held the reporters in contempt of court and imposed $500-a-day fines, but suspended the fines while the reporters appealed.

That caused the news organizations to take stock of the damaging effect of their misguided confidential sources, and instead of pressing the appeal and likely losing in the Supreme Court, they made a deal to contribute to the government settlement with Lee and avoid having to disclose their sources.

Getting rid of this embarrassing case was worth the price. No court is going to allow reporters to keep their sources nameless in a case where someone has been terribly wronged by those sources and there is no other way to identify the culprits. Not even the proposed federal shield law protects reporters when they are the last resort.

The alternative for journalists is to pay fines or go to jail or both. That's why it is critical to make sure that the bond of confidentiality is made with a trustworthy source and not someone peddling phony information. Journalists who play the anonymous-source game need to make sure their cards are solid.

William B. Ketter is editor-in-chief of the Eagle-Tribune newspapers in North Andover, Mass,

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