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THE NATION

New Director for Livermore Is Put on Hold

Search: Questions are raised because UC's choice headed Wen Ho Lee's division at the Los Alamos laboratory.

April 27, 2002|AARON ZITNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The University of California abruptly canceled plans Friday to name a new director for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory amid questions about his role in supervising Wen Ho Lee, once suspected of spying for China at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

University regents had scheduled a vote to confirm Ray Juzaitis, a senior administrator at Los Alamos. But sources said the vote was delayed after questions were raised by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who must be consulted on the selection.

The job is one of the most sensitive in the national security bureaucracy. Livermore, near San Francisco, and Los Alamos, in New Mexico, are among the nation's nuclear weapon laboratories, responsible for designing and safeguarding the country's nuclear stockpile.

Juzaitis was director from 1993 to 1998 of the so-called X Division at Los Alamos, where Lee also worked, a University of California source said. But a university search committee decided that Juzaitis had little role in the Lee affair and selected him from among 40 candidates for the Livermore job.

The search committee was told that Lee was one of 300 employees of the division and that several layers of supervisors separated him from Juzaitis, the source said.

The committee was also told that Juzaitis was a "minor player" in the Lee matter and cooperated fully with federal investigators, the source said.

Like other people who talked about the nomination, he would not allow his name to be printed because personnel matters are considered confidential.

Juzaitis could not be reached for comment. Mark Holscher, a lawyer for Lee, said of Juzaitis: "I am not aware of any allegations that he did not act entirely properly. . . . We raised no allegations that he had acted improperly."

Lee, a Taiwanese-born scientist and naturalized U.S. citizen, was fired from his job at Los Alamos in 1999 amid allegations of spying for China. He was held in solitary confinement for 275 days but never charged with espionage. He pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling restricted data and was sentenced to time served. Lee later said he was singled out because of his Chinese heritage.

The Livermore and Los Alamos labs are run by the University of California on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. Livermore's director is selected by the UC president, with the concurrence of the regents.

One university source said UC officials presented Juzaitis' name on Monday to Abraham, the Energy secretary, and that Abraham approved the choice. But Abraham was not told that Juzaitis had held a supervisory job in Lee's division, this person said. By Friday, the Energy Department was asking questions that the university thought it had to address before holding a confirmation vote.

It is now unclear that Juzaitis will remain the university's selection. Michael Reese, a university spokesman, said the candidate, whom he would not identify by name, "is a fine and accomplished scientist and a deserving candidate, but there were a number of other extremely strong candidates as well."

At the Department of Energy, spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto said: "As I understand it, we are talking about candidates, more than one. The selection process is not over yet."

The Livermore director manages a budget of $1.52 billion and 8,000 employees. The lab, 40 miles east of San Francisco, is primarily devoted to ensuring the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Among other things, it develops computerized and other tests of the reliability of nuclear weapons, a key mission after the government declared a moratorium on nuclear weapon tests in 1992.

Juzaitis earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the University of Virginia. According to a biography issued by the Los Alamos lab, he led the X Division during its transition from a nuclear testing unit to one devoted to maintaining the nuclear stockpile.

The biography said Juzaitis had broad weapon design expertise and experience in computational physics and nuclear testing. He is associate lab director for weapon physics.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo), whose district includes the Livermore lab, said it was appropriate that the vote on Juzaitis was delayed. "The new director will play a vital role in the future direction of the lab, and it is important that everyone's questions are answered before a final decision is rendered."

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