Nuclear Scientist Fired, But No Arrests

  • Share
  • Read Later
That'll teach them to steal U.S. nuclear secrets... Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Monday fired the Los Alamos computer scientist under investigation for allegedly passing nuclear warhead secrets to Beijing. But the fact that, following a three-year espionage investigation, the suspect was simply dismissed from his job suggests there may have been insufficient evidence to arrest him. "This all happened so long ago that they don't have enough evidence to go to court," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "They're having to deduce what happened."

Firing Wen Ho Lee is unlikely to stop Republicans pursuing the charge that the Clinton administration responded lackadaisically to the security breach first revealed in 1995. California Republican congressman Christopher Cox, chairman of a House select committee investigating Sino-U.S. military and trade relations, said Tuesday the Los Alamos case was part of a broader pattern of security breaches at federal weapons labs. The Los Alamos nuclear theft's damage may ultimately be more political than military, however. "Acquiring our secrets saved Beijing somewhere between 15 months and 15 years, but it was more likely to have been on the short side since the Chinese were already at work on this stuff before the theft," says Thompson. "Although the theft of nuclear secrets is alarming, this issue is not new, and the current uproar is being driven by Capitol Hill rather than the security establishment." Which means it's unlikely to go away any time soon.

Discuss the Clinton Administration's China Policy