Commentary Magazine


Wen Ho Lee

To the Editor:

It is disappointing that Gabriel Schoenfeld’s serious, perhaps even libelous, allegation [Letters, July-August] that my “misconduct did immense damage to our government’s ability to combat the very real and ongoing Chinese espionage” should be based on nothing more than a restatement of the allegations of the Bellows report.

Mr. Schoenfeld claims that the 1996 Administrative Inquiry (AI), for which I was responsible, suppressed accurate information and dissenting views offered “by a body of government experts,” and that I purveyed inaccurate information to the FBI. But he offers no facts beyond those contained in the Bellows report, and he ignores conflicting evidence presented in the 2001 Senate Judiciary Report. He also implies that the issue of Chinese nuclear espionage is by no means settled. Could he please provide a single, on-the-record, official government refutation of the 1999 judgment of the Intelligence Community (the interagency body that coordinates all U.S. intelligence functions) that the Chinese had acquired U.S. nuclear-weapons information by espionage? Or could he show how my view differed from the Intelligence Community’s conclusions—especially as I supported and concurred with its judgments?

On the subject of whether I suppressed dissenting information, perhaps Mr. Schoenfeld did not bother to read the footnote in the Senate report noting an FBI summary of a 1996 interview that states: “there was no disagreement that ‘Restricted Data’ information had been acquired by the Chinese. The only disagreement was over how valuable that information was.” Rather than pertaining to the judgment of a “group of government experts,” by which I assume Mr. Schoenfeld means the 1995 Kindred Spirit analysis group, this reference to a “disagreement” concerns a lone dissent by Bobby Henson, a scientist at Los Alamos who argued strenuously that the group’s conclusions were far too “soft.” Henson believed that the Chinese had acquired the W-88 warhead information from a spy, most likely at Los Alamos, and urged the group to adopt that conclusion. I thought that Henson’s arguments were not supported by the evidence available to us at the time and accepted the group’s conclusions while noting his dissent.

Mr. Schoenfeld then alleges that we misled the FBI with regard to our review of lab facilities, citing Sandia and Pantex as examples of facilities we claimed to have reviewed, but did not. Really? How does he know this—because the Bellows report says so? But is he aware that Dan Bruno, the Department of Energy (DOE) investigator, has testified under oath that he and the FBI agent assisting us did visit Sandia in January 1996, only to learn that the Energy Department had permitted Sandia to destroy all records of foreign travel or foreign visitors—and so there were no records for Bruno to examine? Did he know that Bruno had tasked Pantex (and Rocky Flats, too) to assemble similar sets of records for review? But counterintelligence officials at both sites reminded us that these facilities were considered too sensitive to permit foreign visitors or to allow workers to travel to China or Russia, and such records therefore did not even exist.

We understood that this did not automatically eliminate these sites from suspicion, and said so. But only the FBI had the authority to employ the counterintelligence tools—like covert examination of mail or trash, electronic surveillance, etc.—necessary to complete the review of these locations. The FBI explicitly directed that we not undertake extensive interviews of lab scientists or workers; it feared that such activity could tip off any potential suspects.

Finally, it is perfectly conceivable that the Bellows report could be a generally accurate assessment of the government’s handling of the case, but still be badly mistaken about the particulars of the DOE Administrative Inquiry. The Bellows team, composed of Department of Justice officials and FBI agents, did not begin its work until 1999—more than three years after the AI was delivered to the Bureau. The investigators assisting Bellows did not interview lab scientists until well into 1999. By that time, both the FBI, especially in Albuquerque, and Los Alamos were well along in their revision of the history of this case in order to blunt the criticisms both expected (and received) from the Cox Commission.

Again, Mr. Schoenfeld must have overlooked the 2001 Senate Judiciary Report’s conclusion that “The FBI’s failures in the Wen Ho Lee investigation should not be blamed on the AI.” Be assured that the Senators and their aides who wrote that report had full access to the entire record of what really happened in 1995 and 1996. Mr. Schoenfeld, on the other hand, does not seem to have such access. Neither does he seem to have read carefully the reports of those who do. Until he does, perhaps he should be more cautious about his accusations in print about my “misconduct.”

Notra Trulock
Falls Church, Virginia

_____________

 

Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Notra Trulock is almost entirely correct that my characterization of his role is “nothing more than a restatement of the allegations of the Bellows report.” But it follows logically from this that if what I wrote was libelous, so too is the Bellows report.

Of course, I do not believe that the Bellows report or my own summary of it is libelous at all. The first authority I would cite is none other than Notra Trulock himself, who has praised the Bellows report unreservedly in other forums. Indeed, the material he now suggests might be libelous he even had his lawyer greet, upon its publication, with a press release headlined, “Bellows Report Exonerates Notra Trulock.” In our previous round of correspondence, I noted the astonishing pirouettes he has performed with respect to the Bellows report, but he does not explain or even mention his bizarre reversals here.

When I say that Mr. Trulock is “almost entirely” correct in his comments about my sources, I have something specific in mind. In writing about his role, I also relied on materials other than the Bellows report, including a document that Mr. Trulock twice refers to here as the “2001 Senate Judiciary Report.” He draws upon this “2001 Senate Judiciary Report,” which he accuses me of having overlooked, to make several assertions about the 1996 Administrative Inquiry.

But there is a minor mystery here. The Senate Judiciary Committee did not release any reports about the Wen Ho Lee case in the year 2001. One can search high and low in the stacks of the Senate library and still not find the “2001 Senate Judiciary Report” or anything titled like it issued by the Judiciary or any other Senate committee.

The document Mr. Trulock is referring to, a copy of which I have in hand, is missing the customary apparatus of a congressional committee report and is not available to the public in the usual bound form. The text itself, which does indeed concern the Department of Energy investigation, contains no account of how it was prepared, what facilities were visited, or who were the principal investigators, among other basic features. It includes an introduction—written in the first-person singular—but it also, quite peculiarly, lacks an identifiable author.

Nonetheless, the mystery is easily solved. The report was issued by a single United States Senator, Arlen Specter, “published” on a copying machine and on the Senator’s website, and inserted into the Congressional Record. It has no standing beyond what attaches to an ordinary utterance of any congressional officeholder.

What is even more relevant, the report is remarkably sloppy and contains significant distortions. At one point, it even asserts that Notra Trulock was only “closely associated” with the AI and “not its author” (emphasis added). Only in a purely literal sense can this be construed as true: namely, that subordinates to Mr. Trulock drafted and typed the AI. But to leave it at that, as the report does, is to airbrush Mr. Trulock to the edge of the picture and seriously mislead about the chain of authority. It directly contradicts Mr. Trulock himself, who in both of his letters to COMMENTARY makes clear his full responsibility for authorship of the AI.

In any event, Senator Specter himself does not claim that his report is a definitive accounting. Speaking on the Senate floor on December 20, 2001, he was at pains to explain the obstacles he was unable to overcome in its preparation. His Senate colleagues, he complained, never granted him the crucial power to issue subpoenas and compel testimony. His inquiry was “thwarted repeatedly” by the FBI, which at a certain juncture simply “refused to provide additional information.” The Department of Energy would not cooperate, and indeed was “intransigent.” As for the Senate resources devoted to the inquiry, a solitary staff member was assigned responsibility for “virtually singlehandedly conducting the oversight investigations and writing the reports” (emphasis added).

When Mr. Trulock falsely suggests that Senator Specter’s document bears the imprimatur of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then falsely asserts, in a sentence purveying multiple misrepresentations, that “the Senators and their aides who wrote that report had full access to the entire record of what really happened in 1995 and 1996,” he is offering a glimpse into the kind of verbal manipulations that transformed the Wen Ho Lee case from a valid counterintelligence investigation into a fiasco that gravely undermined our government’s ability to combat the ongoing problem of Chinese espionage.

Yet another revealing example of Mr. Trulock’s methods can be found in his request that I “please provide a single, on-the-record, official government refutation of the Intelligence Community’s 1999 judgment that the Chinese had acquired U.S. nuclear weapons information by espionage.” This challenge is more dust thrown in our eyes. In our previous round of correspondence, Mr. Trulock claimed that a 1999 interagency intelligence study confirmed the premise of his 1996 AI. I stated in response that the issue was “by no means settled.” He is now suggesting that by questioning him on this point, I am calling into doubt the 1999 interagency finding.

But I made it plain that I do not quarrel with the interagency finding in the least. The Chinese almost certainly did obtain U.S. nuclear secrets via espionage, and I stated as much in my article. The only thing not “settled” was Mr. Trulock’s contention that the 1999 study confirms the contents of his AI. The AI, to judge by those portions of it in the public record, went far beyond a finding that the Chinese had fruitfully engaged in espionage. It pointed a finger exclusively at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at Wen Ho Lee before ruling out all other locations and suspects.

I cannot fathom why Mr. Trulock puts forward such easily exposed distortions, but his claim that the 1999 Intelligence Community study retrospectively vindicates his AI and his effort to inflate Senator Specter’s personal report into something more comprehensive and authoritative than it is immediately bring to mind the scathing criticisms directed at him by the Bellows report. Mr. Trulock’s AI, we are told there, was “a slapdash affair” that contained “numerous inconsistent and contradictory statements as well as unsubstantiated assertions.” It also employed “horribly inexact language” and was “so poorly written and organized that this alone made it difficult to evaluate and comprehend.”

What a pity that the AI document remains classified so we cannot judge for ourselves, but from the way Mr. Trulock has conducted himself in this correspondence, I am prepared to believe the worst.

_____________

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