Wen Ho Lee to Feds: I'll See You in Court. Twice

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They've been portrayed as the Rosenbergs of the '90s, and they're not happy about it. Sylvia and Wen Ho Lee, two Asian-born naturalized Americans, don't appreciate being branded as spies for communist China, and on Monday they filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., Circuit Court against the three federal agencies they say irresponsibly ruined their reputations. Wen Ho Lee, in jail pending trial on 59 charges that he compromised sensitive military documents while working at Los Alamos, was the subject of a very public investigation into whether he was the mole who gave China design secrets about the W-88 warhead. But Lee says he was singled out for investigation because he's Asian and was maliciously painted as a patsy by the FBI and the Justice and Energy departments to draw attention away from their flawed security. Lee charges that the agencies illegally leaked information about his private life to the press despite knowledge that he wasn't guilty of espionage. Sylvia Lee, a former secretary and data imputer at Los Alamos, does not face criminal charges, but signed on to the suit because, she says, she's been subjected to unwanted notoriety from press leaks.

For Mr. Lee, the potential upside of the lawsuit (beyond any money that might come his way) is an improved chance for acquittal in the criminal case. If he proves the feds acted wantonly in the investigation, it'll put the integrity of the criminal investigation into question. A finding in favor of Lee is also sure to raise further questions about the government's investigative procedures, including press leaks and whether it practices racial profiling.