'No Question,' U.S. Says, Leak Helped China
March 15, 1999 - DAVID E. SANGER - The New York Times
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's national security
adviser, Sandy Berger, acknowledged Sunday that
"there's no question" that China benefited from
obtaining the design of America's most miniaturized
nuclear warhead from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Berger's comments came as Republicans and some Democrats
called for further investigations into whether the
administration dragged its feet in investigating the
loss after the first suspicions arose in 1996.
Rep. Norm Dicks, a D-Wash., said on the NBC News program
"Meet the Press" that the administration had been "slow
to react" to calls from the FBI to strip the lead
suspect of his security clearance. Dicks was co-chairman
of a special congressional committee that recently
completed a study of Chinese efforts to obtain American
"We had a major counterintelligence failure," he said.
"That is the most important conclusion we reached." The
administration is in the midst of an increasingly tense
discussion with the commission, headed by Rep.
Christopher Cox, R-Calif., over what information to make
public in a declassified version of the report.
Cox said he was "appalled by the leaks of some of this
information" but said the White House still was trying
to keep out data that already has "been in the
newspapers for several weeks."
Berger has been defending the investigation into the
intelligence loss for a week now, arguing that he moved
quickly once the evidence became specific and credible.
Appearing on the same news show, he argued that the
first report of the nuclear technology theft, relayed to
him in 1996, was "simply preliminary," and he asked both
the FBI and the Energy Department to investigate.
He did not order a new plan to tighten security until
more specific evidence arose the next year, he said.
Warnings from investigators to take away the security
clearance of the lead suspect, Wen Ho Lee, "were
conversations that must have taken place between the FBI
and the Department of Energy," he said, leaving the
impression he was not involved in the decision. The
suspect was not fired until last week, after The New
York Times reported on the investigation.
At the same time, Berger made his firmest statement yet
that China had gleaned important information from the
theft of the design of the warhead, known as the W-88.
"There's no question that they've benefited from this,"
In response to the growing criticism of how they handled
the case, administration officials now say they
conducted 17 briefings of congressional intelligence
committees in recent years that included information
about the theft. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., has said in
recent days that the briefings included information on
the Los Alamos case. But Goss, a former CIA officer who
chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence,
insisted Sunday that the information was "not
highlighted and it was underplayed."
Goss said that the administration was giving "a little
bit more attention" to counterintelligence now, and
added, "I think if we keep the pressure on, we will
indeed understand that national security is more
important than trade."
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