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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK


World: Americas

FBI relaunches nuclear spy probe

The US is finding it difficult to improve security at its nuclear labs

By BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds

The FBI will relaunch its investigation into allegations of nuclear spying by China.

The United States remains convinced that China got a hold of its nuclear secrets, in particular details of the latest miniature nuclear warhead, and previously, the FBI had focused its efforts on one Taiwanese-born scientist, Wen Ho Lee.

But the investigation of Mr Lee netted nothing conclusive. Mr Lee had worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but he was fired in March for security violations.

Mr Lee allegedly moved classified files from a secure computer to an unclassified, unsecured computer that could be accessed through the Internet.

Starting over


[ image: Scientist Wen Ho Lee says he was singled out because of his ethnicity]
Scientist Wen Ho Lee says he was singled out because of his ethnicity
The FBI will now have to virtually start over with the investigation.

US Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh agreed to add resources to the newly widened investigation, according to a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move to broaden the investigation seems an implicit admission that the earlier focus on Mr Lee was wrong.

The investigation uncovered no hard evidence that Mr Lee provided China with any classified weapons information.

Mr Lee and others have criticised the investigation, saying he was singled out because of his ethnicity.

Tightening security

With pressure from Congress, the Department of Energy, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons programme, is trying to tighten security after a Congressional report uncovered security leaks at the national labs.

But some changes are being criticised inside and outside of the Energy Department.

A plan to subject the 12,000 scientists nuclear scientists to "lie detector" tests is being criticised by scientists at the national laboratories and polygraph experts.

One scientist said it would drive top scientists out of the weapons development programme, and an FBI specialist said it would lead to false accusations.

The problems indicate just how difficult security has become in the nuclear laboratories.

By a vote of 93-5, the Senate passed a measure on Wednesday to reorganise the Energy Department, which has oversight of the nation's nuclear laboratories.

The measure would establish a semi-autonomous agency within the Energy Department, called the National Nuclear Security Administration, to supervise security for weapons development.





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Internet Links


US Department of Energy

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Report on Chinese Espionage

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs


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