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Published: Saturday, 11/25/2000

`The Wen Ho Lee Story'

It was bound to happen. It's the American way: a TV and book deal for Wen Ho Lee, the nuclear scientist who was the focus of never-proven espionage allegations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Dr. Lee, who spent nine months in solitary confinement while overzealous federal prosecutors attempted unsuccessfully to make a secret-selling case against him, will be the subject of an ABC-TV miniseries, scheduled to air late next year. And he's been signed by the network's publishing arm for a book that will be a first-person account of his nightmarish ordeal.

The TV story line will be that Dr. Lee, a naturalized American citizen born in Taiwan, was targeted for prosecution for racial reasons. That is certainly plausible, for he was arrested at a time when officials in the Justice and Energy departments were taking heat for reports that the communist Chinese had gotten hold of U.S. technology for small nuclear warheads. The most the feds could pin on him, however, was that he had “unauthorized possession” of secret material back in 1994. He pleaded guilty and was freed from prison after the judge in the case said the government's conduct “embarrassed our entire nation.”

What has never been explained is whether anyone, from China or elsewhere, actually stole our nuclear secrets. Or did Dr. Lee's Chinese ancestry merely help to set him up as a convenient scapegoat as negligent federal officials became desperate to deflect blame for security lapses?

Dr. Lee, described all along by associates as a dedicated scientist, reportedly was reluctant to cash in on his story, hair-raising though it is. During his 278-day imprisonment, he was threatened with execution and, for much of the time, he was kept in a cell with a bright light burning 24 hours a day.

How much money Dr. Lee will make from the TV and book deal hasn't been made public, but it's logical to assume that it won't come close to compensating him for the unfair and unlawful experience.

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