Reno, Freeh order broader inquiry into nuclear spying

Agents told to determine if secrets were stolen

September 23, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh have ordered federal agents to broaden their investigation into evidence of Chinese nuclear espionage, far beyond the earlier scrutiny of a scientist fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory, government officials said yesterday.

The widened inquiry will include reopening a fundamental debate on whether American nuclear secrets were stolen and, if so, where and how the theft might have occurred, law enforcement officials said.

Other federal officials said the new effort is a tacit acknowledgment that the initial federal espionage investigation of Los Alamos was mishandled. The debate over the inquiry has frayed relations between law enforcement and Energy Department officials.

Federal authorities have been buffeted by complaints about the investigation. A presidential review board and others have argued that the FBI and Energy Department focused prematurely on Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born scientist dismissed from the New Mexico lab in March for alleged security violations.

Republicans in Congress have said that the bureau failed to move aggressively enough to investigate Lee, and have also attacked the Justice Department for rejecting the bureau's repeated requests to wiretap and electronically monitor Lee early in its investigation.

Now, officials said, the government will go back to "ground zero" to conduct a broader inquiry into indications that China obtained secret design information about America's most advanced nuclear warhead, the W-88.

Some U.S. intelligence officials now say that classified information on the W-88 that was apparently obtained by the Chinese was available at many other government installations and at defense contractors, in addition to the Los Alamos lab where it originated.

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