Live

Watch CBSN Live

Wen Ho Lee's Strategy

Jailed scientist Wen Ho Lee pleaded innocent Monday at a detention hearing crowded with friends and supporters. Hours later a U.S. magistrate decided Lee must remain in custody pending trial, describing him as a danger to the community.

The immediate battle in the Wen Ho Lee case is being fought over whether he'll remain in jail until and during his trial, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. Lee's attorneys are appealing the judge's decision to hold Lee without bail.

But Lee's defense team has actually been busy for months leading up to his indictment and arrest last Friday, quietly developing a formidable defense strategy in both criminal and civil realms.

The linchpin of Lee's defense will be to claim "selective prosecution." His lawyers plan to allege that many other workers at U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories committed the same, or worse, security violations than Lee and were not punished.

Some of those violations are outlined in a report issued months ago after an investigation by an independent group headed by former Senator Warren Rudman. The same report cast doubt on whether the Los Alamos lab where Lee worked as a scientist, was actually the source of stolen nuclear weapons data.

Lee's attorneys also hope to prove that Lee was targeted for prosecution because he's Asian American, a claim bolstered by people formerly involved in the investigation. Lee's attorneys have already launched investigations to identify expert witnesses on computers and security at Los Alamos. They're also networking with supportive Asian American, scientist and civil rights organizations -- groups they hope will help finance Lee's defense, which is expected to exceed a million dollars.

And, in a bold counter-offensive, Lee is considering filing a selective prosecution lawsit against the Justice Department in civil court.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Monday that more than a dozen Asian-American organizations, including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Asian American Manufacturers Association, are discussing strategies on behalf of Lee, fearing he may be the victim of bias.

The government alleges Lee mishandled critical nuclear-weapon secrets, downloading them from top-secret computers to an unclassified network and even onto portable data tapes that could be removed from Los Alamos.

The indictment alleges Lee did it "with the intent to secure an advantage to a foreign nation."

The Taiwan-born Lee could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted, prosecutors say. On Friday, Lee's lawyer called the charges baseless.

Prosecutors called the security breaches threats to national security, and investigators said much of the information Lee took was still missing.

Many Asian-Americans said they were concerned that Lee was charged with transferring highly sensitive nuclear-weapons information - not espionage. Some likened his case to racil profiling.

"If you look at the indictment, this looks like 59 counts of downloading," Henry Tang, chairman of the Committee of 100, an organization of prominent Chinese-Americans, told the Times. "He looks like a scapegoat."