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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
Nuclear spy suspect promised bail
Lee supporters
Mr Lee's supporters have protested his innocence
By Richard Lister in Washington

A judge in the United States has ordered a nuclear scientist at the forefront of an espionage inquiry to be released from prison on bail before his trial in November.

Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American, has been held in solitary confinement for eight months on the grounds that he might be a security risk if released.

I conclude that there now is a combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of Dr Lee as required and the safety of the community and the nation

Judge James Parker
A federal district judge, James Parker, ruled that Mr Lee should be allowed bail, but has delayed his release until next Tuesday when the exact conditions will be set.

Mr Lee worked at one of America's most secret nuclear weapons laboratories until March last year, when he became the key suspect in an espionage inquiry.

After a lengthy investigation he was charged with 59 counts of illegally transferring data onto an unsecured computer but he was not charged with spying.

Federal officials leaked what appeared to be damning evidence against him to the media, suggesting he had helped China to acquire American nuclear weapons technology.
Wen Ho Lee
Wen Ho Lee: Held in solitary confinement

He was denied bail on the grounds that he could pose a risk to US national security, but in the past few weeks doubt has been cast on some of the evidence against him.

A federal agent, who is a key prosecution witness, has withdrawn statements accusing Mr Lee of applying for jobs at foreign institutions and concealing contacts.

He also says he was wrong to say Mr Lee told him he had tried to download classified files after he had been denied access to the computer system.

Mr Lee still faces trial in November but the decision to free him on bail suggests that the courts no longer feel him to be the security risk that the government says he is.

It represents a small victory for his family and many supporters who say he has been singled out purely for racial reasons.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Americas
FBI joins nuclear secrets hunt
30 Dec 99 | Americas
Nuclear scientist refused bail
21 Dec 99 | Americas
US scientist sues over spy claims
26 May 99 | Americas
How China targeted US secrets
22 Apr 99 | Americas
China rejects nuclear spying charge
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