U.S. Lawmaker Blasts Clinton Over Nuclear Leak

March 7, 1999 - Reuters

WASHINGTON - Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Shelby Sunday criticised the Clinton administration for moving too slowly to tighten security after a major leak of nuclear secrets to China was discovered in 1997.

"We've been pushing, we've been prodding the administration to do more, to tighten up security," the Alabama Republican said on the NBC program "Meet the Press."

"I think they're beginning to but it's been a long time," Shelby said. "They waited a long time. They could have done more. They could have done more immediately ... It will damage, if it hasn't already damaged our national security in a big, big way."

Shelby said Congress would hold hearings as soon as possible to look into the leak of secrets to China in the mid-1980s and the administration's subsequent investigation.

"The attitude of lax security is going to do more damage to our national security than what we've seen in these newspaper articles," Shelby said.

The New York Times Saturday reported that China used secrets stolen from the National Laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., in the 1980s to produce smaller warheads that could be launched from a single missile at multiple targets.

The paper quoted critics as saying the investigation into Chinese espionage had been delayed because the discoveries came at a politically sensitive time for the Clinton 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.

Saturday, administration officials said the matter was under investigation. National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said a number of steps had already been taken to "improve security in a systematic and comprehensive way."

The revelations could further damage the administration's attempts to convince Congress to allow China into the World Trade Organization.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, also concerned about Chinese espionage, said Sunday that Congress may have to consider holding the administration in contempt of Congress to prod it into providing complete national security information.

"Congress is going to have to toughen up in dealing with this administration, particular where it comes to China and the violations that occurred there," the Mississippi Republican told the "Fox News Sunday" program. "Our options are limited, but clearly there are a number of things where they are stiffing the Congress' ... requests for information."

Details of the theft were in a secret report by a U.S. House of Representatives select committee that investigated the separate transfer of sensitive U.S. technology to China. Lott said this report should be declassified.

At the request of the committee, headed by California Republican Representative Christopher Cox, the CIA and other agencies are conducting a thorough damage assessment, the Times said in its story.

Shelby said top Chinese officials visiting the United States ought to be warned to cease their espionage efforts.

"I think the message should be we want to engage you, we want to trade with you, but we're not going to look the other way if you are going to conduct espionage in this country," Shelby said.

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