FBI Agent Recants Testimony

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An FBI agent has recanted testimony that was key to a judge's decision to deny bail last December to a fired nuclear weapons scientist accused of downloading restricted files.

The testimony last year from Agent Robert Messemer had portrayed Wen Ho Lee as guileful when the jailed Los Alamos lab physicist supposedly told a colleague he wanted to use that scientist's computer to print a resume.

At a bail review hearing Thursday, Messemer acknowledged that Lee had told the other scientist he wished to download files.

``My testimony was incorrect,'' Messemer told U.S. District Judge James Parker.

The judge had cited Lee's ``deeply troubling'' deceptions in denying him bail in December.

The FBI agent said Thursday he did not intentionally attempt to mislead the judge and said he did not believe it was a serious error.

The hearing, the defense's third effort to get Lee released on bail, was scheduled to continue Friday with more questioning of Messemer.

Lee, 60, is charged with 59 counts involving downloading files from Los Alamos National Laboratory to unsecured computers and tape. The Taiwan-born American citizen could face life in prison if convicted at trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 6.

During Messemer's testimony Thursday, the FBI agent also acknowledged Lee disclosed contacts with scientists from the People's Republic of China in a report to the lab about a 1986 conference he attended.

Messemer insisted, however, that under questioning by authorities Lee did not disclose the full scope of those contacts.

Messemer testified last year Lee initially told authorities only about a Christmas card he had gotten from one Chinese scientist. He acknowledged that Parker could have inferred from that testimony Lee was lying.

He also said he wanted to correct a ``minor point'' in which he said Lee sent letters seeking an overseas job. Messemer said Thursday the FBI had no evidence one way or the other whether the letters were sent.

Los Alamos scientist Richard Krajcik, deputy director of a top-secret nuclear weapons division at the lab, testified that he stood by earlier statements about the seriousness of the downloaded documents.

``It represents the crown jewels of nuclear design assessment capability of the United States,'' Krajcik said.

Krajcik conceded the information was not classified as secret when Lee allegedly took it, but said only scientists with security clearances could access it.

At the time, the information had not been reviewed for classification. The information has since been classified as confidential restricted data and secret restricted data, but not top secret.

Defense attorney John Cline read descriptions of classification levels, which define top-secret information as vital to national security and whose dissemination would cause ``exceptionally great damage.'' Secret information does not reveal critical features.