ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A federal judge Thursday agreed to release former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee on $1 million bail while he awaits trial on charges of mishandling U.S. nuclear secrets.
Lee, 60, had twice before been denied bail. U.S. District Judge James Parker relented after a hearing in which Lee's lawyers cast doubt on the solidity of the government's case and just how sensitive the nuclear material involved was.
''I conclude that there now is a combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of Dr. Lee as required and the safety of the community and the nation,'' Parker said.
Lee was not immediately released. The judge set a hearing for Tuesday on the conditions of his release.
Under the judge's proposal, the Taiwanese-born scientist would be required to remain at his White Rock home under surveillance at most times, and all of his telephone calls and mail could be inspected. He could leave only in the company of at least one of his lawyers and would be required to report by telephone twice a day to the federal court.
The only other person who could live there would be his wife, Sylvia Lee, but his children could come for visits prearranged with authorities. Mrs. Lee could leave the home only after notifying authorities of where she was going and why and when she planned to be back and law enforcement agents would be allowed to search her both before and after her trip.
His bond would be secured by his property and that of friends and relatives. Some 15 friends and relatives appeared before Parker last week to offer their property to allow Lee to be freed on bail. Their property, combined with Lee's, is worth about $2.2 million, defense attorneys said.
In Washington, Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said, ''We'll review the court's order and respond in court.''
Lee, who was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory last year and was arrested in December, is charged with 59 counts alleging he transferred restricted data to unsecure computers and tape. Some of the tapes are missing.
Parker heard three days of arguments last week about Lee's release.
Lee's lawyers argued that he was singled out because he is Asian, and they got an FBI agent whose testimony was key to denying the scientist bail to acknowledge that he had given inaccurate testimony against Lee.
Chief prosecutor George Stamboulidis argued that Lee could help someone build a bomb or help a country bolster its nuclear program if he is released from jail.
''The breadth of the potential harm is so great that ... even a reduced risk is too great to take that gamble,'' he said.
However, defense attorney Mark Holscher told Parker there is no evidence Lee ''has the political motivation, the financial motivation or the destructive intent'' to do anything harmful with the material he is accused of downloading.
Two previous attempts by Lee to be freed since his Dec. 10 arrest were rejected. Parker had denied the last bid for bail late in December.