APS News

Langer Petitions Reno on Behalf of Wen Ho Lee

APS President James Langer has written to US Attorney General Janet Reno on behalf of imprisoned physicist Wen Ho Lee, formerly a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, objecting to his pretrial treatment. Lee was indicted last year and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy and Espionage Acts, and is presently being held without bail in a penitentiary near Santa Fe.

Lee has been imprisoned since December 10, 1999, on the government's contention that he is both a danger to this nation and a flight risk. The indictment alleges that in 1993 and 1994, Lee knowingly downloaded 19 collections of computer files containing secret and confidential restricted data relating to atomic weapon research, design, construction, and testing onto an unsecured computer system. Lee has not been charged with communicating classified information to a foreign power, but the government has said that it views his "mishandling of classified information" as seriously damaging to national interests. On February 29, the Court of Appeals rejected Lee's challenge of the denial of bail. The text of Langer's letter, which was communicated to the Attorney General in February, follows.

Dear Attorney General Reno:

As President of the American Physical Society, I am writing to express our concern about the pretrial treatment of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, accused of mishandling classified information at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

We recognize the great importance of the proper handling of classified information to our national security, and we make no judgment about Lee's guilt or innocence. That will be decided in a court of law. However, we are deeply disturbed by the inhumane treatment that he has received in his pretrial incarceration. The extraordinarily harsh conditions under which he is detained suggest to the outside world that he is presumed guilty, and is being punished, before his trial has even begun. This perception has been reinforced by the statement of CIA Director George Tenet that Lee's actions were taken "with intent to harm the United States." It seems to us that basic principles of American justice are being violated in this case.

I would like to bring another important issue to your attention. One of the principal missions of the American Physical Society is to maintain the strength and vitality of the scientific enterprise in this country. The perception in the physics community that Dr. Lee is not being treated justly has caused great consternation, especially among the large number of scientists in the United States who have come here from abroad. As a result, it is becoming difficult to attract and retain the very best scientists at our weapons laboratories and other facilities. We are deeply concerned, therefore, that our scientific capabilities and national security are being compromised by our government's actions in the case of Wen Ho Lee.

I respectfully urge you to look into this matter.

Sincerely yours,

James S. Langer

APS President




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