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FBI Searches Los Alamos Landfill

November 29, 2000

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) _ Using a bulldozer and a large floodlight, FBI agents scoured a snow-covered county landfill for tapes containing nuclear weapons data from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The search Tuesday came amid reports the tapes on which former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee downloaded the restricted information were buried in the mounds of garbage.

Albuquerque TV station KOAT reported that agents were looking for tapes Lee threw in the trash at the lab.

``The FBI is conducting a search at the Los Alamos landfill in furtherance of an ongoing investigation,″ agent Doug Beldon said.

Neither Beldon nor Justice Department officials would elaborate. A source with knowledge of the case, insisting on anonymity, confirmed the search relates to the Lee investigation.

The search is expected to last several weeks.

After spending nine months in custody, Lee was freed Sept. 13 when he pleaded guilty to one count of illegally downloading restricted data to an unsecure tape. Fifty-eight counts were dropped.

The former nuclear scientist swore he never passed secrets to any unauthorized person and that he disposed of the tapes when his security clearance was revoked last year.

Stacy Cohen, a Los Angeles spokeswoman for the Lee family and legal team, said she could not comment on the landfill search, but added: ``Wen Ho continues to cooperate with the government.″

Lee attorney John Cline said he didn’t know about a search until reporters called him. Assistant U.S. Attorney George Stamboulidis declined comment.

Former U.S. Attorney John Kelly, who began the prosecution of Lee last year, first mentioned the landfill the day before Lee was freed.

Lee has been undergoing a debriefing in which he agreed, as a condition of his plea agreement, to answer agents’ questions about what happened to the data tapes. Because of that, Kelly had said: ``We’re going to know whether those tapes are in Taiwan or in a bank-deposit box at Bank of America or in the Los Alamos County landfill.″

If something were thrown into the trash at the laboratory, the landfill is one place it could end up, lab spokesman James Rickman said.

Agents had said their concern over seven data tapes led them to oppose bail for Lee during nine months of pretrial wrangling. Agents found three data tapes early on and demanded to know what happened to the others, which contained nuclear weapons testing and design data.

After he was released, Lee told investigators for the first time that he had made copies of all 10 tapes and had disposed of the copies as well, FBI and Justice Department officials reported in September.

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On the Net:

Department of Energy: http://www.energy.gov

Los Alamos National Lab: http://www.lanl.gov

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov

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