Live

Watch CBSN Live

Espionage Investigator Quits

The intelligence official who led the initial investigation of China's alleged theft of U.S. nuclear secrets has resigned, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy said Tuesday.

The official, Notra Trulock, quit Monday, complaining that he had been blocked from pursuing the case against China by the Clinton administration.

Trulock's abrupt resignation may be another sign that the espionage case against scientist Wen Ho Lee is crumbling. It was Trulock who first blew the whistle on Chinese spying at the nation's weapons labs, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Atkisson.

"By early 1996, we had identified a number of suspects," Trulock announced on April 12.

The "number of suspects" quickly narrowed to Lee, a Chinese-American. But so far, the intense investigation has failed to link Lee to any espionage, raising serious questions about whether he was targeted because of his race.

That's what Lee contended during an interview with CBS News Correspondent Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes last month.

"I'm ChineseÂ… I think that's part of the reason. They want to find out some scapegoat," Lee said.

Energy Department official Ernest Moniz said it was the FBI who decided to pursue Lee, not Trulock.

Notra Trulock

"He, with the FBI, helped to develop candidates for further investigation," said Moniz. "Of course the FBI subsequently started the investigation with one particular suspect."

Trulock told superiors he resigned because he's angry over lack of support for some of his work and findings in the Lee case. But Lee supporters view his departure as the latest fallout in the blame game over who is responsible for pinpointing Lee and why.

Earlier this month congressional investigators came out with a blistering assessment of the U.S. government's methods in the espionage investigation.

The bipartisan report paints a scathing picture of incompetence in the FBI and the Department of Energy. It calls the investigation "flawed from the outset," and says investigators made one blunder after another.

"Key officials in our government were beset with communications failures and poor judgement, and we do not know the extent of the damage that may come from that," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-TN, of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Wen Ho Lee

The committee's top Democrat was equally critical. "There was, to me, a shocking lack of thoroughness, competency and urgency in the govrnment's investigation in this very important and critical case," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-CT.

Among the findings:

  • For four years, investigators overlooked the fact that suspect Wen Ho Lee had signed a waiver which would have allowed his computer to be searched.
  • The Department of Justice, for the first time in a case like this, refused an FBI request for a special surveillance warrant against Lee.
  • Investigators had multiple suspects, but only two, Wen Ho Lee and his wife, were actually investigated.
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson admits the U.S. government botched the investigation, but he still believes officials finally zeroed in on the right suspect. "We think the investigation with this subject is in the right place," Richardson said. "We are looking at all types of potential leads, but the most logical connection is with this subject."