By Vernon Loeb
The Energy Department investigator who singled out Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee for investigation of suspected Chinese espionage denied yesterday that Lee's ethnicity was a factor in that decision.
Daniel Bruno, speaking publicly for the first time, said he identified Lee for investigation by FBI agents five years ago because the Taiwanese American scientist's personnel record was full of "anomalies," including a telephone call to another scientist who was under suspicion of espionage and close contact with visiting Chinese scientists at Los Alamos.
Bruno, 56, agreed to discuss the case in an interview as Congress, the FBI and the Justice Department are reviewing Lee's prosecution and asking, among other questions, whether he was a victim of racial profiling or ethnic bias.
Although Lee was never charged with espionage, he was fired from his job in the high-security X Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory in March 1999 and was held in jail for nine months while awaiting trial for mishandling classified information. In September, the government dropped 58 of the 59 counts against him, and he was freed in return for pleading guilty to a single felony count.
Bruno, a 32-year counterintelligence veteran, said he was told by Notra Trulock III, then the Energy Department's director of intelligence, to conduct an "administrative inquiry" in the fall of 1995 into how China could have obtained classified information about the miniaturized W-88 warhead sometime between 1984 and 1988.
He began by pulling the travel records of 70 employees at Los Alamos and 49 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who had access to W-88 secrets and had traveled to China during those years, Bruno said. Of those 119 employees, Bruno said, he identified Lee, his wife, Sylvia, who worked as a secretary at Los Alamos and hosted visiting Chinese delegations, and seven others as subjects for further investigation based on various "anomalies" in their files.
The list of nine subjects from Los Alamos and Livermore, Bruno said, consisted of six Caucasians and three Asian Americans.
Indeed, Bruno denied ever identifying Lee as "the most likely individual" to have leaked secrets to China about the miniaturized W-88 warhead, as FBI Director Louis Freeh alleged in recent congressional testimony.
"I upheld the principles of the United States. I did nothing untoward, nothing immoral and nothing illegal," Bruno said, insisting that his review merely singled out Lee for further scrutiny on the basis of circumstantial information. Bruno said he had no mandate -- and no evidence -- to suggest Lee had committed espionage.