March 8, 1999 - ESSAY by William Safire - The New York Times
Throughout the 1996 Clinton campaign for President,
China's agents of influence had the run of the White
House as they raised millions for the Clinton campaign.
Chinese military intelligence officials were waved in
without clearance. U.S. executives contributed megabucks
as they lobbied for easier approval of sales of
sensitive technology to Beijing.
In the midst of this -- in April of 1996 -- a Department
of Energy official informed President Clinton's deputy
national security adviser, Samuel Berger, (1) that China
had probably stolen our secrets of making warheads small
enough to enable long-range missiles to pack multiple
nuclear punches, and (2) that the suspected spy was
still at work in the Los Alamos laboratory in New
Mr. Berger, who sat in on most of the political meetings
with Clinton's Asian fund-raisers, did nothing. The
internal security division of the Department of Justice
apparently did not ask a court for wiretap authority
under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. At Reno
Justice, investigating any Chinese penetration is a
Over one year later, after news stories and columns
about Clinton's "Asian connection" had stimulated law
enforcement officials and a Senate committee to bestir
themselves, F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh and Director of
Central Intelligence George Tenet went to the office of
Energy Secretary Federico Pea. "Louis and George read
him the riot act," a meeting participant tells me,
"about lax security at Los Alamos."
But nothing happened for a year and a half. Senator Fred
Thompson's hearings on the Asian connection were
politicized and truncated by John Glenn and Tom Daschle.
Not until late 1998, when a bipartisan House select
committee under co-chairmen Chris Cox and Norman Dicks
began asking questions about Chinese espionage, did a
new Energy Secretary begin to lock the barn door.
For months, the House select committee has been
negotiating with the Clinton Secrecy Brigade to
declassify most of its 700-page report. The White House
hopes to delay clearance until the select committee goes
out of business in April, when criticism of the
espionage defeat and its Clinton cover-up could be
diffused and buried.
But Berger did not reckon with the journalistic
enterprise of The Times's James Risen and Jeff Gerth.
Their story on Saturday was headlined "China Stole
Nuclear Secrets for Bombs, U.S. Aides Say" and subheaded
"Espionage Case at New Mexico Lab Is Said to Be
Minimized by the White House."
They show how the theft of our nuclear secrets enabled
China to leap a generation ahead with warheads that can
be launched from under water. The reporters quote Paul
Redmond, the C.I.A.'s former counterintelligence chief
who caught the Soviet spy Aldrich Ames, assessing the
impact on our defenses of this Chinese espionage: "This
was far more damaging to the national security than
Berger has a unique geopolitical Weltanschauung:
Whatever elects Bill Clinton and protects him from
criticism is good for our national security.
Accordingly, his spin control is likely to be: The
initial breach happened in the 80's, so blame Reagan,
Besides, goes the White House line, when a Berger flunky
asked for a quickie C.I.A. "alternative analysis" of the
suspicions of the Energy Department's Notra Trulock,
that whistleblower's warning was derogated as merely "a
Not yet denied, but likely to be unless witnesses were
present, is The Times's account that Trulock "was
ordered last year by senior officials not to tell
Congress about his findings because critics might use
them to attack the Administration's China policies,
officials said." For spilling the beans, Trulock was
Now we're getting to the nub of it. Yanked to a complete
turnabout on trade policy with China by the Riady family
and other heavy campaign contributors in the satellite
and computer businesses, Clinton didn't want Congress --
empowered by law with oversight of intelligence -- to
know what the F.B.I., C.I.A. and D.O.E. suspected about
China's spy in Los Alamos.
Although aware of the dangerous spying, Clinton still
insisted that regulation of the transfer of sensitive
technology be controlled by his sell-'em-anything
He delivered for China. Will Congress now protect the
interests of the United States?
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