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 controls."

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 polygraphs.

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 Chinese military.

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 China.

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 espionage."

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 problem."

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 perspective.

"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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