Administration, GOP spar over spy case
March 14, 1999 - AP
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Clinton administration conceded
Sunday the Chinese gained from technology allegedly
stolen from a federal nuclear weapons lab but insisted
the government has responded decisively. Republicans
disagreed and pressed for a comprehensive review of U.S.
policy toward China.
"This is a very dangerous situation involving
international espionage that directly threatens the
security of all Americans," said Sen. John McCain, a
GOP presidential hopeful. McCain, R-Ariz., said
President Clinton should appoint a panel to investigate
charges that China stole nuclear warhead technology.
Another senior GOP senator, Dick Lugar of Indiana,
recommended a "very serious review" of the country's
China policy. Lugar also said in NBC's Meet the Press
that the United States should make clear to China that
it will defend Taiwan from a Chinese missile attack.
The administration, represented by Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson and the president's national security
adviser, Sandy Berger, said the Chinese did benefit from
the leak of information in the 1980s from the Los Alamos
laboratory in New Mexico.
But, Berger said on NBC, "I think we moved swiftly and
I think we continue to impose on China the strictest
Richardson said the administration had doubled the
security budget for the national labs, instigated strong
background checks for scientists visiting the labs from
sensitive countries, and subjecting employees to
The suspected spy, Taiwanese-born American scientist Wen
Ho Lee, has been questioned by the FBI and fired from
his job. He has not been charged with any crime.
Republicans, seizing on the Los Alamos case, contend
anew that Clinton's policy seriously has been tainted by
alleged illegal campaign contributions and the transfer
of satellite technology that may have been used by the
A special congressional commission headed by Rep.
Christopher Cox, R-Calif., has put together a
still-classified report said to take strong issue with
the administration's technology transfer policies to
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on Fox News
Sunday, said the report would show "an overwhelming
shift in policy by this administration that a lot of
technology was transferred to China, not just through
The report is scheduled to be released in several weeks.
But the committee, which wants to make almost all of it
public, and the administration are negotiating over what
should be declassified.
Cox, on ABC's This Week, said the committee "believes
that not only now but for the indefinite future we have
serious counterintelligence problems at our national
laboratories and elsewhere throughout the government."
"I disagree," Richardson said on ABC. "I believe we
have taken some dramatic steps to deal with this
The latest edition of Time magazine reports that Lee,
who worked at Los Alamos for more than two decades,
attended a 1988 seminar in Hong Kong and, with Chinese
officials present, allegedly divulged sensitive
information on the miniaturization involved in the
design of America's most modern warhead, the W-88.
The Los Angeles Times, in a report Sunday, quoted law
enforcement officials as saying the investigation had
"hit a wall" because of lack of hard evidence and
Lee's refusal to cooperate.
The administration first became aware of possible
espionage at Los Alamos in 1996. Republicans have asked
why it took so long to investigate the case and remove
Lee from his job.
"There should have been a fire bell in the night," GOP
commentator Pat Buchanan, another presidential aspirant,
said on NBC.
"Someone has to explain that and someone has to be held
accountable," said Buchanan, who says Berger should
lose his job over the matter.
But other Republicans put the matter in a different
"These lapses go back to the beginning of time," Rep.
Porter Goss, R-Fla., the head of the House intelligence
committee, said on Fox. "Pearl Harbor was perhaps one
of our biggest lapses.
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