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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lee Wen Ho Is Innocent

J'Accuse," as Emile Zola once wrote in accusing the French government of defaming an innocent man. In a case that parallels the

frame-up of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army a century ago, the U.S. government is hellbent on destroying Wen Ho Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist born in Taiwan and being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico without bail. In both cases, the "foreignness" of the suspect was used by officials and the media to stoke fears of betrayal of the nation's security to a dangerous enemy.

In Dreyfus' case, he was linked to a document found in German hands revealing the transfer of military secrets. Convicted of treason on false evidence, he was finally exonerated after 13 years.

Likewise, the case against Lee began with a document found in the possession of a foreign government fChinaf purporting to contain a secret sketch of the W-88 nuclear warhead, the United States' most-advanced nuclear weapon.

It is now conceded that Lee had no access to the sketch in question, and while he is not now accused of transferring secrets to any government, he faces a life sentence for the far less serious and totally unrelated charge of "mishandling" classified material.

It's an anticlimactic ending to a four-year effort by the U.S. government to prove that Lee stole the secret design for the miniaturized W-88 nuclear warhead and then gave it to the Chinese military.

That was the heart of the infamous China spy scandal that has absorbed a congressional committee, fanning the flames of racism and damaging relations with China. That unfounded charge against Lee had been leaked by government and congressional officials and trumpeted by the media, led by The New York Times, for the past year.

Earlier this month, the government conceded with its filing that it has no such case. Indeed, the FBI has now admitted that Lee and the Los Alamos lab where he worked never had access to the flawed design drawing of the weapon. That allegedly purloined drawing dates back to 1988 when Ronald Reagan was president, and it was created, with its signature design flaws, at a stage in the weapons development after the Los Alamos involvement.

The FBI has now switched its investigation to the Sandia and Lockheed labs where the flawed design document was created, and Lee in effect has been exonerated of the charge that started all this.

This fact, that the allegedly stolen sketch was not created at Los Alamos, and therefore not available to Lee, was reported in The Washington Post and other newspapers, but not in The New York Times, which has unfairly built the case against Lee.

Not only did Lee have nothing to do with the sketch of the warhead that was at the heart of the much ballyhooed China spy scandal, but The Associated Press has reported that the FBI has known this fact for well over a year.

The existence of this exculpatory evidence regarding Lee was revealed in a letter to the U.S. Senate last month by Assistant FBI Director Neil Gallagher, who oversees national security cases for the FBI.

Gallagher wrote that the Albuquerque FBI office, which was in charge of the investigation, had filed reports in November and December 1998 and again in January of this year that "question the accuracy of certain representations and conclusions" about the original evidence produced against Lee.

The AP last week also reported access to a document from the FBI dated Jan. 22, 1999, stating that "the FBI office in Albuquerque continues to insist" that Lee had nothing to do with the China spying case. FBI Director Louis Freeh was briefed by agents in Albuquerque last March and again told that "it did not appear" that Lee had anything to do with the theft of the warhead design.

Yet Lee was fired in March without a hearing, his name was publicly revealed and connected to international espionage and he has lived under a cloud of suspicion ever since. Unable to link Lee with transferring secrets to China or any other government, the Justice Department has focused its wrath on Lee's mishandling of classified data and sought what appears to be a woefully disproportionate life sentence.

The limited scope of the government's indictment leaves the China spy scandal without a villain or, indeed, any evidence that secrets were even stolen in the first place.

The FBI obviously still doesn't have a clue as to who, if anyone, stole the missile warhead design 12 years ago, but it should at least admit that Lee was the wrong target. Hopefully, Lee will not have to wait for this measure of justice as long as Dreyfus did.

Robert Scheer is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times, where this comment initially appeared.