The Wen Ho Lee Case and the Polygraph
The Los Alamos National Laboratory investigation of Wen Ho Lee in connection with espionage and security violations has taken on mythical proportions, and claims about whether or not he “passed” his polygraph examinations have been central to many of the newspaper and other media accounts. Different members of the committee were given varying accounts about a polygraph examination conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), but this information was not provided to the committee on the record.
This appendix summarizes information extracted from a number of sources, including the publicly released parts of the final report of a U.S. Department of Justice review of the handling of the entire case (Attorney General’s Review Team, 2000; hereafter referred to as the FBI report).1 We include this information because it illuminates the background of this study. It was the Wen Ho Lee case that led Congress to require polygraph screening in the DOE and that, indirectly, triggered this study. In addition, the case illustrates the fine line that sometimes divides polygraph screening from event-specific investigation: Wen Ho Lee’s polygraph tests included a number of generic screening-type questions, even though the investigators were sometimes interested in specific contacts between Lee and foreign scientists during which specific information may have been passed to the foreigners. The FBI report covers investigations of security lapses at Los Alamos National Laboratory linked to Wen Ho Lee, beginning in 1982 and running through 1999. It describes the results of three different polygraph tests administered to Wen Ho Lee, in 1984 by
the FBI, in 1998 by DOE, and in 1999 by the FBI again. The details available for the first and third remain largely classified although their “results” are described in the released version of the FBI report, as well as in two recently published books (Lee, 2001; Stober and Hoffman, 2001).
THE 1984 FBI POLYGRAPH
Following reports that Wen Ho Lee had unauthorized contacts with representatives of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC), the FBI began an extensive investigation of Lee that included physical surveillance, examination of telephone and other records, and a series of interviews with Lee. On January 24, 1984, Lee took a polygraph examination conducted by an FBI examiner “to resolve any questions which may have arisen concerning the information he had furnished” in an FBI interview on January 3, 1984. The questions asked during this examination, the format of the test, and the polygraph examiner’s evaluation of his initial responses are not described in the FBI report, but Lee (2001:26) claims that one of the questions he was asked was: “Did you pass any classified information to an unauthorized person?”—to which he answered “No.”
The FBI report suggests that he was subjected to follow-up questioning because of concerns regarding deceptive responses (p. 39):
Lee insisted that he had not furnished classified information to any unauthorized person nor had he ever agreed to work for any non-U.S. intelligence agency. Further testing was conducted to verify Lee’s truthfulness.
The FBI examiner determined that Lee had been non-deceptive in his answers to follow-up questions regarding [deleted].
A follow-up FBI memo documents the results as follows (p. 39):
The subject of this matter has been interviewed and has substantially admitted all allegations and has explained why he made certain contacts. . . . In view in the fact that the subject has been interviewed, has explained his actions and has passed a polygraph examination, this matter is being placed in a closed status.
There is some dispute over how this information was shared with DOE, and issues regarding Lee’s activities arose again in 1988 in connection with a background check done by the Office of Personnel Management in connection with Lee’s Q clearance. In June 1993, Lee’s Q clearance was officially continued, although in the interim he had traveled twice to the PRC, once in 1986 and again in 1988, and during those trips met with a number of PRC scientists. Later, he arranged for the visit to Los Alamos of a Chinese graduate student, and the details surrounding
this visit and his interactions with this student also became a matter of investigation.
THE 1998 DOE POLYGRAPH
The FBI investigations into Wen Ho Lee’s foreign contacts and activities began again in earnest in 1995 and culminated in a polygraph administered on December 23, 1998, by Wackenhut Security, contractors for DOE in Albuquerque, following an extensive interview of Lee by the FBI and DOE investigators. In the pretest interview, Lee made a “significant disclose” (p. 631), the details of which have been withheld in the released report. Both Lee (2001) and Stober and Hoffman (2001) report that Lee revealed a previously unreported 1988 meeting he had in his Bejing hotel room with Hu Side and Zheng Shaoteng, two Chinese nuclear weapons scientists. Zheng had asked Lee about the detonation system for the “primary” of the W88 warhead, and Lee claimed that he told Zheng that he did not know the answer.
The main polygraph examination asked Lee four relevant questions, ones that appear to be variations of the TES (Test of Espionage and Security) espionage question and focused toward specific activities (pp. 631-632):
Have you ever committed espionage against the United States?
Have you ever provided any classified weapons data to any unauthorized person?
Have you had any contact with anyone to commit espionage against the United States?
Have you ever had personal contact with anyone you know who has committed espionage against the United States?
According to the FBI report, Lee answered all of the questions “no” and the polygraph examiner concluded that Lee “was not deceptive when answering the questions above” (p. 632). The report raises concerns about the questions and the meaning of the term “espionage” and suggests that the post-test interview should have been more extensive, given that Lee had admitted in the pretest to being solicited in a 1988 hotel room encounter to provide classified information to an unauthorized individual.
But the real issue the report raises concerns the review of the charts and tape of the polygraph interview by DOE supervisors in January 1999. In that review, they determined that “the initial NDI [no deception indicated] opinion could not be duplicated or substantiated” and that they were “unable to render an opinion pertaining to the truthfulness of the examinee’s answers to the relevant questions of this test” (p. 645). In a
discussion with the principal DOE supervisor who rescored the examination, he confirmed to the committee his concern with the original scoring of the charts and his concern with the FBI statement that he recommended calling Lee back for a follow-up interview. In the meantime, the FBI received copies of the tape and the charts, and its polygraph unit concluded that Lee “did not pass the exam,” and that he “seemed to be inconclusive if not deceptive” in his answers to the polygraph (pp. 645-646).
CBS News (2000), as part of its February 5, 2000, broadcast, reproduced Figure C-1, which purports to be the “independent” scoring by three different polygraphers of Lee’s responses to the four questions (there is no information on which chart—i.e., for which time the questions were asked). The first line (#1) in the figure was by the original Wackenhut polygrapher, the second (#2) by a supervisor, and the third (#3) by a quality control reviewer. All three have circled “NSR” meaning “no significant response.” In the particular numerical scoring method being used, scores of less than –3 lead to conclusions of deception, scores between –3 and +3 are inconclusive, and those of more than +3 are considered nondeceptive. Without the actual polygraph readings, one cannot interpret the different accounts of the DOE test results.
THE 1999 FBI POLYGRAPH
On February 10, 1999, the FBI administered a third polygraph to Lee; the contents and format are not disclosed in the FBI report. The report notes, however, that Lee was found inconclusive on two of the relevant questions posed and deceptive on the other two. Stober and Hoffman (2001:187) report that at some point the relevant questions included:
“Have you ever given [two sensitive nuclear-weapon] codes to any unauthorized person?”
as well as a follow-up question on W88 information. The format used appears to have been a relevant/irrelevant one, and Lee claims that some of the irrelevant questions included:
“Are you married?”
“Do you work at Los Alamos?”
“Do you drink wine often?”
“Do you smoke?”
“Do you gamble illegally?”
“Do you dislike black people?”
“Do you ever cheat on your publications?”
A DOE polygraph supervisor reported to the committee that these were not the precise wordings of the questions used.
Lee (2001:58) contrasts the set-up and environment of this polygraph test with the one administered by DOE, which he describes as “comfortable.” After the first chart, Lee was told that he had failed the test badly.
There appear to have been admissions made by Lee in the post-test interview that led to a confrontational FBI interview of Lee and ultimately to fairly exhaustive searches of Lee’s office and computer files.
AN OFFER OF A FOURTH POLYGRAPH
After the second FBI polygraph, the investigation turned from whether Lee was responsible for the transmittal of information on the W88 to the Chinese to issues of security violations associated with the movement of computer files from secure systems to nonsecure ones at Los Alamos and the preparation of tapes of these files. Stober and Hoffman (2001:248) report that in December 1999 Lee’s lawyers contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office offering that Lee would take “a polygraph test, administered by a mutually agreed upon operator, on the narrow questions of whether he had destroyed the tapes he had made and whether he had ever given their contents to an unauthorized person.” The committee does not know the outcome of this offer.
The full report numbers some 779 pages, and was submitted in May 2000, as a “top secret” classified document. Following a Freedom of Information Act request, an edited version of the report was declassified and publicly released.
Attorney General’s Review Team 2000Final Report. Attorney General’s Review Team of the Handling of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Investigation. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
CBS News 2000Lee polygraph scores. February 5. [Online] Available: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/02/05/national/main157338.shtml [Accessed: August 19, 2002].
Lee, W.H., and H. Zia (contributor) 2001My Country Versus Me. New York: Hyperion.
Stober, D., and I. Hoffman 2001Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage. New York: Simon and Schuster.