Wen Ho Lee, the U.S. nuclear scientist once identified in news reports as the target of a spying investigation, will receive more than $1.6 million from the federal government and five media organizations, including The Washington Post, to settle allegations that government leaks violated his privacy.
The United States will pay Lee $895,000 to drop his lawsuit, filed in 1999, which alleged that officials in the Clinton administration had disclosed to the news media that he was under investigation for spying for China while working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
His suit sought the names of the anonymous officials who revealed information about him to reporters, in violation of a federal statute that prohibits the government from releasing protected information from employees’ personnel files. Lee’s case was strengthened after two federal courts ruled that reporters could be held in contempt if they refused to disclose their sources.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer had threatened stiff sanctions against reporters who refused to name their sources, starting with fines that the reporters would have to pay out of their own pockets.
Lee’s attorney, Betsy Miller, said: “Our aim was never to target or punish journalists. It was to vindicate the injury suffered by Dr. Lee because of the unlawful leak by government officials against him.”