CIA launches probe of China spying
March 15, 1999 - AP
WASHINGTON (AP) - The CIA said Monday it will conduct a
damage assessment to determine how much sensitive
nuclear weapons information - if any - was lost to China
through a suspected spy working at the Los Alamos
Amid mounting criticism that the Clinton administration
took no decisive action when it first learned of the
possible compromise of sensitive weapons information,
CIA Director George Tenet said retired Adm. David
Jeremiah will provide an independent review of the work
being done now by a multiagency intelligence team.
It is the second such assessment Jeremiah has been asked
to do. Last year, he led a review team that found
weaknesses in intelligence community procedures that
contributed to the CIA's failure to provide adequate
warning that India was about to test a nuclear weapon.
"Admiral Jeremiah is the perfect person to lead such a
review," Tenet said. "His credentials are impeccable
and his credibility is unquestioned."
Jeremiah's review team will examine work begun in
mid-February within the intelligence community. At issue
is whether China gained top-secret know-how on building
multiple-warhead nuclear weapons from a Taiwanese-born
scientist who worked at Los Alamos. China has yet to
field such a weapon, but a prototype bears a strong
resemblance to the W-88, a U.S. warhead.
Several members of Congress are pressing for greater
disclosure and a closer look at high-tech relations
between the United States and China.
The Senate is holding hearings this week on an alleged
1980s case of Chinese spying at the Energy Department's
nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., that
only recently came to light. In the House, members are
demanding that nearly all of a classified 700-page
report on technology transfers to China be made public.
Administration officials stood their ground Sunday,
saying they have dealt properly with the Los Alamos case
and overall security threats to the nation.
"I think we moved swiftly and I think we continue to
impose on China the strictest controls," national
security adviser Sandy Berger said on NBC's "Meet the
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said President Clinton
should appoint a nonpartisan commission to investigate
allegations that China stole nuclear warhead technology.
The Justice Department "does not have credibility on
this issue" because Attorney General Janet Reno refused
to seek an independent counsel investigation into
illegal campaign contributions originating in China, he
said on CBS' Face the Nation.
Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., told NBC that the spy case
called for a serious review of U.S.-Chinese policy,
including a warning to China that a missile attack on
Taiwan would be met with U.S. retaliation.
Other Republicans said they would fight administration
resistance to make public almost all of the report on
technology transfers prepared by a special panel headed
by Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif.
"We will have to have a vote of the House in order to
declassify that report, and when the American people see
what's in it, I think they will be really outraged,"
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said on Fox News
Cox, interviewed on ABC's This Week, said his panel
believes that "not only now but for the indefinite
future we have serious counterintelligence problems at
our national laboratories and elsewhere throughout the
The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Norm Dicks of
Washington, said the most important finding was that for
20 years "we had a major counterintelligence failure at
Los Alamos and at the other national labs that is now
A Taiwanese-born computer scientist, Wen Ho Lee, was
fired from his job at Los Alamos a week ago amid
suspicions that he leaked secrets to the Chinese in the
1980s. Lee has not been charged with any crime, and
Newsweek magazine said the FBI now believes it has
virtually no chance of making a case against him.
The FBI began its investigation in 1996, and Republicans
have accused the administration of dragging its feet in
acting against Lee in the interests of U.S.-China
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, appearing on NBC and
CNN's Late Edition, insisted the administration acted
swiftly and responsibly. "I took (Lee's) clearance
away, I moved him away from sensitive areas long before
the story broke," he said.
He said the Energy Department since 1997 has doubled the
intelligence budget at the national labs, initiated
strong background checks of scientists from sensitive
countries and required employees to take polygraph
National security adviser Berger said there was "no
question" that the Chinese did benefit from the flow of
nuclear technology in the 1980s that is now subject to
But he also said the spying allegations must be seen in
the context of China's cooperation in such areas as
stopping the sales of weapons to countries including
Iran and dealing with North Korea.
"Most countries are engaged in efforts to obtain
American sensitive information by clandestine means,"
Berger added. "The world is not a playpen here.'
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