Spying Charges Against Beijing Are Spelled Out by House Panel
May 26, 1999 - JEFF GERTH and JAMES RISEN - The New York Times
WASHINGTON -- A long-awaited Congressional report that describes a pattern of systematic
and successful Chinese espionage to
learn American nuclear secrets was
released on Tuesday, and President Clinton said he agreed that national security should be improved.
The contents of the report, which
have been seeping out in recent days,
were unanimously approved by the
five Republicans and four Democrats on the panel, the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and
Military/Commercial Concerns with
the People's Republic of China.
Speaking in Texas at an economic
conference sponsored by Vice President Al Gore, the President said his
Administration agreed with "the
overwhelming majority" of the report's 38 recommendations, which
call for stronger intelligence, security and export-control programs.
China has consistently denied the
allegations of spying, and the investigation has further strained relations
between Washington and Beijing.
The committee's criticisms of the
Administration's policy of easing
technology exports to improve political relations could also become an
issue in the Presidential campaign.
The report has already drawn a call
from the House majority leader,
Richard Armey, for the resignation
of the President's national security
adviser, Samuel R. Berger.
The three-volume report, on slick
paper with color photographs, concludes that China has stolen design
secrets for all seven nuclear warheads currently deployed on American missiles, enabling Beijing to leap
years ahead and modernize its nuclear weapons.
The report says that "systematic"
Chinese nuclear espionage began 20
years ago and almost certainly continues, but that it has not altered the
military balance between Washington and Beijing because China still
has few nuclear missiles.
But the committee warns that China is exploiting stolen secrets to develop a modern and more mobile
nuclear capability that could pose a
threat to American troops and allies
in Asia and the Pacific.
Despite the committee's battle to
maintain its bipartisan spirit, at today's presentation one of the Democrats questioned a key conclusion,
that the thefts had put China's nuclear weapons design information on a
par with that of the United States.
The report also criticizes the practices of two American satellite companies -- Hughes Space and Communications International Inc. and Loral Space and Communications Ltd. --
for sometimes subordinating national security to the "bottom line."
And it offers a new view of efforts
by the Chinese military to funnel
money to a Democratic fundraiser in
1996: that the money, given by a
Chinese military officer, Lieut. Col.
Liu Chaoying, who met President
Clinton at a benefit in 1996, "was an
attempt to better her position in the
United States to acquire computer,
missile and satellite technologies."
At Tuesday's news conference, members of the committee stressed that
national security had taken priority
over partisan rancor. "Our final report shows Congress can work well
together," said Representative
Christopher Cox, a California Republican and chairman of the panel.
Representative Norm Dicks of
Washington, the ranking Democrat,
said, "Chris Cox and I agreed that
nine members could be Americans
first, putting aside partisan considerations."
But another Democratic member,
Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of
South Carolina, questioned whether
the finding that stolen secrets had
put China's design capabilities "on a
par with our own" was accurate.
The President, in his remarks in
Texas, also pledged to continue his
policy of engagement with Beijing.
His promise to improve security was
backed up by Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson, who said, "I am trying
to clean up a mess."
But Clinton and his Administration were criticized by two Republicans seeking a Presidential nomination, George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, both of whom said he
should have reacted more quickly to
initial reports of Chinese spying.
At its core the report presents two
intertwined tales: of China's "insatiable" appetite for American military technology, and of Washington's
laxity over sensitive exports and security at weapons laboratories.
The committee began its inquiry
looking at a narrow subject: what
was China learning from American
companies who used Chinese rockets
to launch satellites? But midway into
its inquiry the committee turned to
the reports of nuclear espionage.
In recent weeks, leaks of some of
the findings about espionage have
caused a furor in Congress. In response, the White House has emphasized that the suspected spying occurred during both Republican and
The report criticizes the looser
controls on technology exports, a cornerstone of President Clinton's commercial diplomacy, but does not assign blame for lax security at the
laboratories. A principal finding is
that the United States did not become "fully aware of the magnitude
of the problem" until 1995.
The committee interviewed 150
witnesses and reviewed 500,000
pages of documents. But it faulted
the cooperation it received from the
Administration and from Hughes
and Loral as less than complete.
Specific complaints involve the
failure of some Cabinet departments
to turn over some documents or allow some interviews and the fact
that Berger took 40 days to respond to a written question about
when President Clinton was informed about the spying reports.
Berger originally told the committee that the President was informed in early 1998. But this month,
long after the report was completed,
Berger changed his account and
said he had briefed Clinton in
A senior aide to Berger attributed the delay and inaccuracy to
poor staff work and distractions
from American bombing of Iraq,
which began a few days before
The committee relied on
Berger's first account, saying the
President was not briefed until early
1998 "even though" the scope of the
problem was first uncovered by intelligence officials in 1995. The officials then briefed Berger in 1996.
Berger is not considering Representative Armey's request that he
resign, a White House aide said.
About 30 percent of the report remains classified. The version made
public today often uses words like
"may" or "could" or "possibly."
Cox said in an interview, "An unfortunate byproduct of the rewriting
process is that apparent speculation
and opinion enters the report whereas in our final, classified report there
were only facts."
These are some of the report's
- The Chinese Government has
3,000 "front" companies in the United States, but American agencies
seem to have little knowledge about
their existence or activities. In the
1990's, China stepped up its use of
front companies for espionage.
- China stole unspecified thermonuclear weapons information, possibly from a national weapons laboratory, in the mid-1990's. This is in
addition to China's acquisition of design secrets on seven nuclear warheads, including the neutron bomb
and the W-88, the most advanced,
- China has stolen information relating to American re-entry vehicles,
which shield warheads as they return to earth.
- China illegally obtained ballistic-missile guidance technology that it
has exploited for its own weapons.
- China illegally obtained American research on electromagnetic-weapons technology related to satellites in the late 1990's.
- China's agreement to allow monitoring of its use of American exports,
which was announced at summit
talks in Beijing in 1998, is "wholly
inadequate" in general and "useless" in the case of advanced computers.
The report said Washington's policy of allowing corporations to police
their own technology sales, a significant step taken in the first Clinton
Administration, has not worked because national security interest
"simply may not be related to improving a corporation's 'bottom
On the subject of aid by American
satellite manufacturers for Chinese
scientists, the committee found that
in 1993, 1995 and 1996 the companies
"transferred missile design information and know-how" to China "without obtaining the legally required
licenses." The "illegally transmitted" information has improved the
reliability of China's civilian and military rockets and "is useful for the
design and improved reliability" of
future Chinese ballistic missiles.
President Reagan first approved
the launch of American commercial
satellites on Chinese rockets in 1988.
But the committee found that his
decision was based on two outdated
factors: "Insufficient domestic
launch options in the aftermath of
the Challenger disaster" and the belief that China "was a strategic balance against the Soviet Union in the
context of the cold war."
So the report calls for strengthening American rocket-launching capabilities, improving the monitoring
at foreign launch sites and tightening
Federal scrutiny of commercial
space insurers and satellite exports.
Buried in the report is a timely
warning: The committee noted the
lack of procedures to detect or prevent the movement of classified nuclear weapons information to less
secure computer systems at the
It was not until last month that the
Energy Department, which owns the
labs, took drastic actions to begin to
address that issue.
That came days after officials reported that several years earlier, a
scientist at Los Alamos National
Laboratory suspected of spying for
China had transferred virtually the
entire history of United States nuclear weapons testing and development
to an unsecure computer system.
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