ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wen Ho Lee spent his first hours of freedom celebrating at home with family and friends as the government defended its dogged prosecution of the Los Alamos nuclear scientist, saying it sought to protect national security.
Lee was released after pleading guilty Wednesday to a lone count of mishandling nuclear secrets.
Asked if Lee deserved an apology for being detained without bail under strict rules banning communication with all but his lawyers and family, his prosecutor said “absolutely no.”
“When you steal our nuclear secrets you are not going to be able to communicate with anyone,” Assistant U.S. Attorney George Stamboulidis said on the courthouse steps.
But the diminutive, graying scientist received an extensive apology from U.S. District Judge James Parker, who had harsh words for top decision-makers in the government’s executive branch, especially the departments of Energy and Justice. He said their handling of the case was an embarrassment.
“They have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it,” Parker said before sentencing Lee to nine months — the time he served since his arrest last December.
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said in Washington: “We respectfully disagree with the judge. We have an obligation to the American public to protect the national security.
“Before we had the assurance from Dr. Lee that he would tell us what he knows, we could not afford to do anything but detain him.”
Lee, smiling and dressed in a casual blue polo shirt and slacks, went to a big “Welcome Party” bash thrown by his Los Alamos neighbors Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m very happy to be home. I’m so impressed with the big crowd here,” he told those gathered in Don and Jean Marshall’s back yard. “The last nine months were pretty tough for me but I survived.”
Jean Marshall urged journalists to “get acquainted with Wen Ho as we know him. He is a fun guy and you’re going to love him.”