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Judge Orders Release of Los Alamos Nuclear Scientist Lee

By Richard A. Serrano
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

A federal judge in New Mexico on Thursday ordered the release of indicted nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee on $1 million bail next week, a sign that the government’s case may not be as strong as once believed against the man it claims posed a grave threat to national security.

The 60-year-old Lee, who was fired from his position at the top-secret nuclear weapon design division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is to be set free after a hearing next Tuesday before U.S. District Judge James A. Parker in Albuquerque, N.M.

After spending the last eight months in jail, Lee is to be allowed to return to his home in White Rock, N.M., where he will remain under strict house arrest as he prepares for the start of his trial in November.

The federal government alleges that Lee misappropriated decades’ worth of highly classified U.S. nuclear secrets with the intent of aiding an unidentified foreign government.

Government investigators initially believed that Lee, a native of Taiwan, was planning to provide the government of China with data detailing the design of America’s most sophisticated nuclear weapons. Lee’s defenders say he was unfairly singled out because of his ethnicity.

Parker, in granting bail, did not specifically address the merits of the charges against Lee. But he reached his decision even before reviewing all of the material supplied during a three-day pretrial hearing last week.

“Enough of the transcript of the most recent hearing has been prepared and reviewed by me to permit the announcement of a ruling at this time,” Parker said.

“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.”

It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would continue to fight Lee’s release. “We’ll review the court’s order and respond in court,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona in Washington.

At the hearing next Tuesday, the judge will discuss a series of tight restrictions that he intends to impose on Lee’s release.