China obtained U.S. nuclear secrets through security breach, official says

March 7, 1999 - CNN

WASHINGTON -- A senior administration official has told CNN that China obtained nuclear secrets through a security breach at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which helped China develop a prototype for a miniature nuclear bomb.

The official said it is unclear how much China benefited from the information since it has yet to deploy the weapon.

The Clinton administraton is conducting an assessment to determine the impact of the stolen nuclear secrets, he said.

"There is little question that information on that design was passed. It is a separate issue as to how much the Chinese benefited," he said.

The New York Times has reported that a computer scientist at the laboratory was suspected of passing on sensitive information that helped China develop a miniaturization of its nuclear bombs in the 1980s.

The U.S. was unaware of the espionage until 1995 and did not identify the suspect who has not been charged until 1996.

Senior officials at the White House were not briefed on the full scope of the problem until July of 1997, said the administration official.

National Security Adviser Samuel Berger oversaw an interagency process to assess the scope of the problem and, by the following February, President Clinton issued an order putting in place specific remedial action to improve security at the national laboratories.

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