No Defense | The Nation


No Defense

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The rest of the Times's original indictment against Lee was at best circumstantial and again does not withstand serious scrutiny. First among those distortions was the suggestion that Lee had failed a lie-detector test. As the Times's original account put it, "Energy gave the suspect a polygraph, or lie-detector test, in December. Unsatisfied, the F.B.I. administered a second test in February, and officials said the subject was found to be deceptive."

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Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup...

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As noted, Lee, willingly and without legal advice, took that polygraph--ordered by an Administration under pressure from the Cox committee to do something about alleged Chinese spying--on December 23, 1998. The test asked four basic questions: "Have you ever committed espionage against the United States? Have you ever provided any classified weapons data to any unauthorized person? Have you had any contact with anyone to commit espionage against the United States? Have you ever had personal contact with anyone you know who has committed espionage against the United States?"

Lee's answer to all four questions was a definitive "No," and the polygraph expert conducting the test concluded, "I am of the opinion [that] this person was not deceptive when answering the relevant questions pertaining to involvement in espionage, unauthorized disclosure of classified information and unauthorized foreign contacts." The manager of the polygraph test center, under contract to the Energy Department, also reviewed the result and stated that his judgments "concur with the Examiner that upon completion of testing the Examinee was not deceptive when answering the relevant questions."

According to CBS News, which later looked into the matter: "The polygraph results were so convincing and unequivocal, that sources say the deputy director of the Los Alamos lab issued an apology to Lee, and work began to get him reinstated in the X-division. Furthermore, sources confirm to CBS News that the local Albuquerque FBI office sent a memo to headquarters in Washington saying it appeared that Lee was not their spy."

Yet when the results of the polygraph test arrived in the FBI's Washington headquarters, those same results were reinterpreted to conclude that Lee had not passed. CBS raised the question of how the very same polygraph charts could be open to such contrary interpretation with Richard Keifer, chairman of the American Polygraph Association, who is a former FBI agent who ran the agency's polygraph program. According to CBS News: "We asked Keifer to look at Lee's polygraph scores. He said the scores are 'crystal clear.' In fact, Keifer says, in all his years as a polygrapher, he had never been able to score anyone so high on the non-deceptive scale. He was at a loss to find any explanation for how the FBI could deem the polygraph scores as 'failing.'"

A second test, in February of 1999, in which Lee later said he had been asked only one question, has never been made available to independent experts. According to the CBS report: "The FBI then did its own testing of Lee, and again claimed that he failed. Yet sources say the FBI didn't interrogate Lee at this time, or even tell him he had failed the polygraph--an odd deviation from procedure for agents who are taught to immediately question anyone who is deceptive in a polygraph."

What the CBS story suggested was that the FBI, under pressure from the Administration and/or Congress, was doing all it could to find someone to blame for some breach of security and that Wen Ho Lee, one of the many thousands with access to data concerning the W-88, was singled out as the target of opportunity.

The New York Times had originally planned to run its first story on March 5, but--the newspaper's executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld, later admitted to the Washington Post--at the request of the FBI, it held off publication for a day. The FBI took advantage of that delay to grill Lee yet again. After publication of the Times story, the FBI conducted another vicious, baiting interview of Lee, which stands as a classic of intimidation. During that interview, two FBI special agents--Carol Covert and John Hudenko--told Lee repeatedly that he had failed both the December polygraph and the February test.

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