A Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage

A Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage

by Dan Stober, Ian Hoffman

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Overview

No espionage case in recent decades has been anything like the Wen Ho Lee affair. As Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman describe in A Convenient Spy, an astonishingly inept investigation of a crime that may never have occurred ended in a national disgrace. A weapons-code scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lee was hunted as a spy for China, indicted on fifty-nine counts, and held in detention for nine months as a threat to the entire nation. But after pleading guilty to just one count, he went home -- with an unusual and emotional apology from a federal judge. Prosecutors' claims that Lee had stolen America's "crown jewels" of nuclear security simply evaporated. Yet Lee's motives have never been satisfactorily explained, and his often-repeated excuse that he was just backing up his work files does not stand up to scrutiny.

As Stober and Hoffman report, Lee's lies and his unexplained connections to foreign scientists spanned eighteen years. He was a security nightmare. Tapping at his keyboard, he assembled a private collection of the computer programs used to design America's nuclear weapons, then left them vulnerable to hackers and foreign intelligence services for years. The FBI's belated discovery that he had also put the codes on portable cassette tapes launched a frenzied worldwide search that eventually carried agents to the Los Alamos landfill. And yet today, the tapes have never been found.

In 1995, Lee was just another American, a Taiwanese immigrant striving to support a family he cherished and to make a name for himself in scientific circles. Unknown to him, however, scientists working in the secret world of nuclear-weapons intelligence examined purloined Chinese documents, studied spy reports, and wondered: Had China stolen the secrets of the W88, America's most advanced nuclear weapon? Scientific hunches rapidly evolved into a criminal investigation aimed at Lee. He had been overheard by the FBI while telephoning a spy suspect, and he was warmly embraced by a high-ranking Chinese nuclear-weapons official whom he wasn't supposed to know. The FBI noted that he was "ethnic Chinese." And in this uncertain period after the Cold War, many politicians played up China as a threatening new enemy. Energy Secretary and vice presidential hopeful Bill Richardson was eager to fire Lee and appear decisive in protecting national security.

In this stormy confluence of intelligence and politics, Lee became a convenient spy. But was he guilty?

Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman tell the story of the Wen Ho Lee fiasco dramatically and authoritatively, providing an objective account that no partisan version of the story can match.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416572091
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/03/2007
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dan Stober reports for the San Jose Mercury-News, where he shared the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for public service for coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue: "They Electrocuted Them, Wen Ho"

  1. Nantou to Los Alamos
  2. The Hill
  3. A Neat and Delicate Package
  4. The China Connection
  5. Tiger Trap
  6. The Narrow Neck of the Hourglass
  7. Alarm Bells
  8. ASKINT Meets Guanxi
  9. The Collector
  10. Kindred Spirits
  11. A Shallow Pool
  12. Mass-Market Espionage
  13. The Out-of-Towner
  14. The FISA
  15. Flying the False Flag
  16. Trulock and the True Believers
  17. Exile from X Division
  18. Panic
  19. "As Bad as the Rosenbergs"
  20. Becoming the Enemy
  21. Shock Waves
  22. Intent to Injure
  23. The Crown Jewels
  24. "It's Conceivable That This Is Possible"
  25. Swords of Armageddon
  26. The Momentum Shifts
  27. Freedom


Epilogue

Notes

Index

Customer Reviews