Former Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Wen Ho Lee and his wife, Sylvia, plan to file a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court here alleging that the FBI and the departments of Justice and Energy violated federal privacy statutes by leaking personal and confidential information about them to the media, their attorneys said yesterday.
Lee was fired from his sensitive job at Los Alamos in March and identified by U.S. officials as the prime suspect in an investigation of Chinese espionage at the lab. Those officials later acknowledged they lack evidence showing Lee spied for China.
Lee was charged Dec. 12 with 59 felony counts for mishandling classified information downloaded from the lab's classified computer system. Held in jail without bail since his arrest, he is to appear today in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to appeal a magistrate's denial of bail.
Brian A. Sun, an attorney for Lee, said the nuclear physicist and his wife, who worked at Los Alamos as a secretary, believe that government leaks beginning in January were designed to set them up as scapegoats for failed security at the Department of Energy's weapons lab and the FBI's botched espionage investigation at Los Alamos. Sylvia Lee--who, like her husband, worked as an FBI informant and gathered information about Chinese nuclear scientists--has not been charged with a crime.
"The Lees feel that their reputations and good name have been destroyed as a result of unlawful leaks by these agencies, and that the Washington culture of arrogance has allowed these agencies and the individuals who made these unlawful leaks to get away with it," Sun said.
The leaks and the resulting media coverage, Sun said, created so much political pressure that government officials felt compelled to charge Lee with mishandling classified information, even though they lack evidence of espionage.
Federal privacy statutes make it a misdemeanor for government officials to unlawfully divulge certain personal and financial information. Each instance of unlawful disclosure is punishable by a fine of at least $1,000.
Attorneys for the Lees say the complaint will allege that government officials leaked information about Lee's employment history, personal expenditures during a trip he made to Hong Kong and the results of a series of government polygraph examinations he took at the FBI's request.
U.S. officials have denied leaking information about Lee, and officials at Los Alamos have refrained since March from using his name in discussing the espionage investigation.
John Kelly, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque responsible for prosecuting Lee, has acknowledged a lack of espionage evidence but said the criminal charges filed against Lee are warranted by the extreme sensitivity of the nuclear weapons data he blatantly mishandled.