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Senators excoriate China spy inquiry

From the beginning, the FBI, the Department of Energy and the Justice Department bungled the four-year investigation of Chinese thefts of America's nuclear secrets, two senators reported Thursday.

Neither Attorney General Janet Reno nor FBI Director Louis Freeh gave the investigation the kind of personal attention that could have cleared away the bureaucratic and legal obstacles, said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's ranking Democrat.

"The story is one of investigatory missteps, institutional and personal miscommunication, legal and policy misunderstandings and mistakes at all levels of government. The DOE, FBI and DOJ must share in the blame for our government's poor performance in handling this matter," Thompson said.

Lieberman added, "There was what was to me a shocking lack of thoroughness, competency and urgency in the government's investigation of this very important and critical case."

The Senate committee questioned the government's investigators for 13 hours over two days.

The government's investigation began in 1995 after the CIA found out that China may have gotten information on a number of U.S. warheads, including the highly advanced W-88 multiple warhead.

Thompson and Lieberman said that investigators focused so quickly on Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born American scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and his wife Sylvia, as the prime suspects that they neglected possible suspects elsewhere.

Lieberman said that means that if Lee is innocent, then the spies "are still out there, indeed probably still working for our government in jobs with access to the most highly classified information our government possesses."

But Thompson said he believes the FBI had probable cause to suspect Lee.

The report reveals that when Lee took a polygraph test in February he was asked whether he had ever given any nuclear secrets "to any unauthorized person." Saying Lee gave false answers on the test, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson fired him March 8.

Lee has publicly denied giving any secrets to the Chinese, and he has not been charged with any crime. A federal grand jury is hearing evidence on the case.

Neither politics or U.S.-China policy interfered with the investigation, the report found.

"The startling fact that comes out of the investigation is the opposite, which is how little the attorney general was involved in this matter, when you consider how critical it is to our national security," Lieberman said.

Reno said in a statement that while she still supports her department's decision not to seek the warrant for Lee's computer, "I also believe that the matter should have been brought to my attention after it was reviewed."

John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said the FBI early on recognized there were flaws in the case.

"Director Freeh has reacted in a massive way to the shortcomings," he said.

Ed Curran, director of the Office of Counterintelligence in the Department of Energy, said the report is a fair assessment of the problems all three agencies encountered during the investigation.