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US nuclear scientist settles privacy suit with government, reporters evade jail time

[JURIST] Dr. Wen Ho Lee [Washington Post archive], the US nuclear scientist at one time suspected of stealing nuclear secrets for China, Friday settled a civil lawsuit [Jones Day summary] he had brought against the US Department of Justice and the Department of Energy alleging they leaked false and misleading information about him to reporters, contrary to the Privacy Act [text]. The government agreed to pay Lee $895,000 covering legal fees and taxes. In a separate agreement, five news organizations representing reporters who had been subpoenaed in the case [RCFP backgrounder] agreed to pay $750,000 to "protect our journalists from further sanctions" imposed for not disclosing confidential information to Lee's attorneys, according to a joint statement [PDF].

In November last year a federal judge ruled Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus [JURIST report] in contempt for refusing to reveal his sources for a story about Lee, and in December the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to rehear [JURIST report] the case of four other reporters who were challenging an earlier ruling holding them in contempt [JURIST report] for similar failures. The non-disclosures could have led to imprisonment. Lee was originally investigated for allegedly giving top secret nuclear technology to China. He was never indicted for espionage but he eventually pleaded guilty to a single charge of mishandling computer files. Bloomberg has more.

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