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Caveat lector

26 May 1999

Postscript: To hug a thief

Synopsis: You won’t believe the other thing that made them suspect Wen Ho Lee.

1998 Report Told of Lab Breaches and China Threat
Jeff Gerth and James Risen, The New York Times, 5/2/99

Sorry. This Gerth/Risen piece got in the wrong pile when we wrote this morning on the Lee wiretap. But we really thought you’d want to hear the other reason Wen Ho Lee was a suspect. In this piece, Gerth and Risen describe the 1982 phone call which led to Lee’s successful polygraph test. Then--and we swear we aren’t making this up--the boys go on, next paragraph, to write this:
GERTH/RISEN: Officials say that in 1994 or 1995, another Los Alamos scientist saw Mr. Lee being hugged by a visiting Chinese scientists in a manner that seemed suspiciously congratulatory. It turned out to be a scientist Mr. Lee had visited in China.

The witness reported the encounter to the F.B.I., officials said, one of the factors that eventually led the bureau to suspect him in China’s theft of design information about America’s most advanced nuclear warhead, known as the W-88. [Our emphasis]

Without a hint of irony whatever, Gerth and Risen’s next sentence says this: “Some in Congress have questioned whether the F.B.I. was aggressive enough in its pursuit of Mr. Lee in the W-88 case.” And we agree--you catch a scientist hugging another, it inevitably makes you think he’s been spying.

Was Wen Ho Lee involved in the W-88 theft? At THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing. But is it surprising a wiretap request was turned down, if it was supported with evidence like this?

Smile-a-while: The two paragraphs we’ve quoted appear under a subhead: “Suspicions Raised by Congratulatory Hug.”