WASHINGTON — A federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee after government attorneys warned that national security could be compromised if the case went to trial.
Notra Trulock, the Energy Department's former security chief, sued Lee and two government investigators. Trulock claimed they damaged his reputation by claiming that he singled out Lee because of his ethnicity as the prime suspect behind a series of security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Lee, a Taiwanese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested in December 1999 on suspicion of spying for China and indicted on 59 felony counts alleging he transferred nuclear weapon information to portable computer tapes.
Although Lee denied giving information to China and never was charged with spying, he was held in solitary confinement for nine months. As the government's case crumbled, Lee pleaded guilty to a felony count of downloading sensitive material and was set free. President Clinton apologized for Lee's treatment.
Trulock's lawsuit was scheduled for trial next week. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday after government attorneys said state secrets could be compromised.
Thomas J. Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, which represents Trulock, said the case could have gone forward without jeopardizing classified information. He said Trulock would appeal.
"This is payback to Notra Trulock for being critical of the intelligence establishment in this town," Fitton said. "The government has done nothing but try to throw a monkey wrench into this case, and they've done it to avoid embarrassment."
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller would not comment on Fitton's claims.
Lee's attorney, Frank Volpe, said it is unfair to accuse the government of meddling. He said Lee's defense hinged on information in Trulock's initial report that identified Lee as the most likely source of security breaches at Los Alamos.
But the government said the report could not be released without compromising state secrets, making it impossible for Lee to defend himself.
A recently declassified Justice Department review of Lee's case was harshly critical of Trulock's initial inquiry but said Lee was not singled out because of his race.
That contradicted statements made by former Los Alamos counterintelligence chief Robert Vrooman and Trulock's predecessor, Charles Washington. Both said racial profiling led investigators to focus on Lee.