Reno (Finally) Ups the Pressure on Wen Ho Lee

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Never let it be said that Janet Reno can't make up her mind. After an interminable interagency debate, the attorney general Friday indicted former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee on espionage charges. What's surprising isn't the indictment — after all, we've known the story for nine months now — it's the time it took. So why did it take Reno so long to come to a decision? She was caught between the FBI, which was urging her to charge Lee with mishandling classified information and violating the Atomic Energy Act, and her own prosecutors, who were telling her she'd be nuts to bring such a weak case. The prosecutors had misgivings because while the FBI believes it has extensive evidence that Lee illegally transferred classified information to unclassified computer systems, it has no proof that he made the crucial next step: passing that information along to China.

The bureau hoped that charging Lee would change that. Their reason: Agents have discovered what they believe to be evidence that Lee downloaded some of the classified material to tape after transferring it to the unclassified server. "The FBI wants to know what happened to that tape," says TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon, "and indicting him may put pressure on Lee to provide an answer." Now they'll get their chance to see whether an indictment will jog Lee's memory.