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Little Known About Fired Scientist

March 11, 1999

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) _ In Los Alamos, a town that was born in secrecy and is home to hundreds of people who still toil quietly on the nation’s nuclear arsenal, many have little to say about the scientist suspected of sharing secrets with China.

Residents said they know Wen Ho Lee as an avid gardener who shares the fruits of his labors with neighbors in the middle-class community.

They didn’t know much else about the Taiwan-born Lee, who was fired Monday from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Lee had been under FBI investigation since 1996. He has not been arrested or charged.

At Lee’s home Tuesday, blankets were draped across windows and no one answered the door. His telephone was disconnected.

``They always come down and ask me if I want some apples or cherries,″ Mary Swickard, who didn’t work at the lab but knew Lee and his wife, Sylvia, said Tuesday. Mrs. Lee often ``will ring the bell, tell me to help myself and then, whoosh, she’s gone.″

She said it isn’t unusual for others in the bedroom community of scientists and physicists to be tightlipped. They are ``afraid to say anything because if you work for the lab, you might be saying something you shouldn’t,″ Ms. Swickard said.

``We’re not close, socializing with anybody in the neighborhood,″ said Bill Partain, a safety analyst who worked with Lee’s wife at the lab.

Los Alamos was built in the 1940s by the U.S. government under a veil of secrecy. It is here that scientists scrambled to design the atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending World War II. It still is a key installation for nuclear research.

U.S. intelligence agents are investigating how China apparently obtained top-secret design information in the 1980s about warheads.

Lee, who had worked at the lab for more than a dozen years with top security clearance, was fired on the recommendation of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who said Lee failed a lie-detector test in February and improperly failed to disclose foreign contacts.

At Los Alamos, Lee wrote and maintained supercomputer codes for hydrodynamics _ the mathematical science of predicting movement of fluids and gases, the Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday. Friends and co-workers said Lee planned to retire in nine months.

``I just don’t think it’s in his character that this happened,″ said Pat Soran, who was Lee’s supervisor for two years.

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