The son and daughter of former Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Wen Ho Lee said yesterday that a torrent of leaks by federal government officials has destroyed their family's reputation and falsely "branded" their father as a Chinese spy.

"This is wrong, it's unfair, it's an injustice, and it can't be done to just anybody, like it was done to Richard Jewel," said Chung Lee, 27, a medical student, referring to the security guard who was falsely accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"We believe these leaks," added Alberta Lee, 26, a software engineer, "are the reason my father is being held in jail without bond."

Lee, 59, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was fired from his sensitive post 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.

But Lee was charged Dec. 12 with 59 felony counts for mishandling classified information downloaded from the lab's classified computer system and has been held without bail in Albuquerque since his arrest.

In Albuquerque, Lee's criminal defense attorneys met yesterday with a federal judge, trying to arrange for a bail review hearing this week. In Washington, standing on the steps of the federal courthouse at Third Street and Independence Avenue, Chung Lee said he wants, more than anything else, to have his father out on bail and home for Christmas.

He and his sister, who made their first public comments on their father's situation yesterday, said members of their family have been allowed to visit Lee in jail for only an hour a week, in the presence of an FBI agent. While both children were raised speaking to their parents in Chinese, they said FBI agents insist that all jail conversations be conducted in English.

"I think he's doing the best he can," Alberta Lee said. "He knows he's innocent. He knows he has done nothing wrong. He has faith in the judicial system, and he's going to wait this out."

The Lee children spoke to reporters after attorneys filed court papers alleging that the FBI and the departments of Energy and Justice unlawfully leaked confidential information to the media about Lee and his wife, Sylvia, 56, a retired Los Alamos secretary and data analyst.

"As a result of the unlawful selective leaks by defendants, [Lee and his wife] became the subject of intense media scrutiny and were portrayed as suspected spies for the People's Republic of China," the lawsuit states.

Brian A. Sun, a former federal prosecutor and the family's lead attorney, declined comment on most aspects of the criminal charges filed against Lee in Albuquerque but said Lee destroyed seven tapes containing downloaded information. Federal prosecutors said in indicting Lee that they could not account for the tapes.

"They were destroyed. They were not destroyed for any sinister motive," said Sun. "We believe this issue has been blown way out of proportion, in part by these unauthorized leaks."

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, beginning a two-day trip to Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, said at a news conference in Albuquerque that Lee's lawsuit "has no foundation."

"We have made a concerted effort to protect the privacy of all individuals in his case," Richardson said. "I believe we have acted responsibly and been very deliberate, especially the Justice Department, in the law enforcement effort."

Background

Nuclear Espionage

MARCH: A Taiwan-born scientist at Los Alamos, Wen Ho Lee, is fired for security violations. He had been under investigation since 1996 in connection with the 1980s theft of W-88 warhead information.

APRIL: After learning that Lee had transferred top-secret nuclear computer codes to his unsecured computer, the Energy Department shuts down computer systems at all its weapons labs because of concerns about possible espionage.

MAY: Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announces an overhaul of security and counterintelligence activities at the Energy Department, including creation of a "security czar."

The House select committee on Chinese technology transfers issues a 700-page report saying China had obtained nuclear secrets about all U.S. warheads through a 20-year campaign of espionage.

DEC. 10: After hearing evidence for several months, a grand jury in Albuquerque, issues a 59-count indictment accusing Lee of removing nuclear secrets from a secured Los Alamos computer. Lee is arrested.

SOURCE: Associated Press

CAPTION: Wen Ho Lee's daughter, Alberta Lee, son Chung Lee, center, and attorney Brian Sun speak outside the federal courthouse in Washington.