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A missed opportunity
on April 2, 2002
This book could have been the definitive, unbiased account of this whole ugly situation. Unfortunately, the authors appear to have had very little access to Lee himself, or his family, and so this book does not feel complete. This book is strongest when discussing the failings of the FBI and CIA, but it is weaker when discussing its main subject, Wen Ho Lee. Stober and Hoffman's depiction of Lee sometimes seems unnecessarily dark, like the shadowy picture of Lee on the book cover. For example, they exonerate him as a spy, but repeatedly mention that Lee was a mediocre talent at the labs. It's not clear why this even matters, but even if it did, Los Alamos is an elite lab that could have hired anybody it wanted - even an average performer there is probably quite decent by outside standards.
I also wonder how well the authors understand Lee and his background. For example, they accept at face value reports that Lee was seen hugging a foreign weapons scientist, suggesting suspicious intimacy with the "enemy". But Lee himself always strenuously denied that the "hug" ever took place, and Lee himself comes from a generation and a culture where public displays of intimacy are not terribly common. Hoffman and Stober choose to believe a culturally incongruous report, and not Lee. Why?
Did Stober and Hoffman not push hard enough for more access to Lee and his family? Was Lee advised by his lawyers not to talk to Stober and Hoffman? Whatever the case, this book missed a golden opportunity to present two complete sides of a very complicated case. The authors probably did the best they could with the material they had, and their descriptions of Lee's egomaniac accusers Notra Trulock and Bill Richardson are very eye-opening. However, the title should be reversed to "The Politics of Nuclear Espionage, and Wen Ho Lee".