Clinton Acts After Possible Nuclear Theft By China
March 6, 1999 - Reuters
WASHINGTON - President Clinton ordered tightened
security at U.S. nuclear laboratories after receiving reports
that China may have stolen nuclear secrets in the 1980s, U.S.
officials said Saturday.
The officials, commenting on a story in The New York Times,
denied one aspect of the report -- that the Clinton White House
tried to downplay the espionage because it clashed with efforts
to improve relations with Beijing.
One official said the theft of nuclear secrets apparently
took place in the 1980s, but was only brought to Clinton's
attention in 1997.
"Once he learned of it he increased security at the labs.
It was something that happened a long time before," the
official said. "He acted quickly, but you don't draw attention
to something like that."
The Times said U.S. authorities believed China was still
trying to steal secrets from the U.S. government's major nuclear
The paper reported that China, using secrets stolen from the
Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, had been able to produce
small warheads that could be launched from a single missile at
The CIA's former chief spy hunter Paul Redmond, who made his
name by uncovering Soviet spy Aldrich Ames, said the theft had
"This was far more damaging to the national security than
Aldrich Ames," he said.
The espionage was not detected until 1995 when the CIA
analyzed Chinese nuclear test results and found similarities
with America's most advanced miniature warhead, the W-88, the
In 1996, a Chinese-American suspect was identified at the
U.S. Energy Department's weapons lab in Los Alamos. It was not
until this year that the suspect was given a lie-detector test,
which one official said he failed. He was not arrested.
The Times quoted critics as saying the investigation into
Chinese espionage had been delayed because the discoveries came
at a politically sensitive time for the White House.
The information came to light while Congress was
investigating the role of foreign money in the 1996 presidential
campaign and as charges emerged that Beijing had secretly
funneled money to the Democratic Party.
The Clinton administration has been trying in the last few
years to strengthen its strategic and commercial links with
"This conflicted with their China policy," a U.S. official
speaking on condition of anonymity told the Times. "It undercut
the administration's efforts to have a strategic partnership
with the Chinese."
The Times said the espionage was referred to in a secret
report by a U.S. House of Representatives select committee
investigating the separate transfer of sensitive U.S. technology
to China. The investigation found the theft had harmed national
security, the Times reported.
At the request of the committee, headed by California
Republican Rep. Christopher Cox, the CIA and other agencies are
conducting a thorough damage assessment, the paper said.
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