U.S. Probing Whether China Stole Nuclear Secrets
Laurence McQuillan - March 7, 1999 - Reuters
WASHINGTON - Federal authorities are investigating
whether China stole U.S. nuclear secrets and used them to
dramatically boost its own arsenal, U.S. officials said
"Currently there is an ongoing investigation to determine
if there was criminal conduct and we continue to assess the
implications for national security," said White House National
Security Council spokesman David Leavy.
According to other administration sources, federal agents as
recently as this week questioned a suspect who may have been
involved in stealing top secret documents from the National
Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and passing them to
Officials said President Clinton was first told in 1997 that
crucial information may have been stolen in the mid-1980s by
"When presented with information of these allegations in
1997, we took a number of steps to improve security in a
systematic and comprehensive way," Leavy said.
An administration official said while "it can't be ruled
out" that more recent espionage has occurred, "we've taken a
lot of steps in the last couple of years to stop it."
The New York Times reported Saturday that China used secrets
stolen from Los Alamos to produce small warheads that could be
launched from a single missile at multiple targets.
The CIA's former chief spy hunter Paul Redmond, who made his
name by uncovering Soviet spy Aldrich Ames, told the newspaper
the theft had far-reaching consequences.
"This was far more damaging to the national security than
Aldrich Ames," he said.
The espionage was not detected until the CIA analyzed
Chinese nuclear test results and found similarities with
America's most advanced miniature warhead, the W-88, the Times
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 Energy Department's director of counter-intelligence,
Edward Curran, said Saturday he was "aggressively
strengthening" measures at government laboratories to prevent
espionage. Special agents were being based at weapons labs and
the screening of foreign scientists seeking access to them was
"We've increased accountability and we're putting in place
additional tripwires to ensure strong protection of the vital
national security capabilities at DOE labs now and in the
future," he said in a statement.
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 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.
It also coincided with Clinton administration efforts to
strengthen its strategic and commercial links with China.
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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