US opens widespread inquiry on nuclear spies

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THE FBI is to scrap its three-year-old investigation into allegations of extensive Chinese spying at Los Alamos and start a new and much broader inquiry into US nuclear weapons laboratories. A government official said the original inquiry had been too narrowly focused - a tacit admission that the chief suspect, the Taiwan-born scientist Wen Ho Lee, may have been selected unjustly.

Mr Lee was dismissed from the national laboratory at Los Alamos in March on suspicion of having stolen blueprints for the W-88, a top-secret miniature warhead. He had failed a lie-detector test and been uncooperative under questioning, FBI sources said. But they conceded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, and Mr Lee accused officials of singling him out unfairly because of his Chinese origins.

At the time, Mr Lee was believed to be one of very few people with access to details of the W-88. It has since been established that over 500 individuals could have had similar access.