China spy report stuns Capitol Hill
May 26, 1999 - The Washington Times - Nancy E. Roman
A long-awaited House report detailing a web of Chinese espionage was finally made public yesterday, setting off a political uproar on Capitol Hill and prompting new calls for Clinton administration officials to resign.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey called for the resignation of National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, who was informed of Chinese espionage in April of 1996 and failed to brief President Clinton until July 1997.
"I don't go about calling for people's resignation willy-nilly, but I believe there is a clearly documented track of irresponsibility," said Mr. Armey, of Texas. "Sandy Berger needs to stand up and accept responsibility for the fact that he failed in his duty to . . . the American people."
Mr. Clinton, whose administration battled for five months to keep the report secret, defended his role and said he would continue dealing with the People's Republic of China on a range of matters because that is in the national interest.
"I strongly believe that our continuing engagement with China has produced benefits for our national security," Mr. Clinton said in a speech in Edinburg, Texas. In a written response to the report, the White House said it didn't agree with all of the points in the committee, led by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican.
But Mr. Cox said the case is irrefutable. "This report is not inferences," he told a news conference yesterday. "It's not suspicions or things that we cannot prove. It is, rather, the facts, and I think it's vitally important for us today to emphasize that this is a fact-based report."
Many Democrats, however, expressed alarm over the findings in the committee's report, which details a concerted campaign by China to steal all of the United States' most secret nuclear technology.
While defending the president's response, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the panel's ranking Democrat, said that Chinese penetration of nuclear weapons laboratories was "a major counterintelligence failure . . . one of the worst failures in the nation's history."
Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and another committee member, referring to a case still being investigated by the FBI of the loss of design material from one of the country's most sophisticated nuclear warheads from the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico said simply: "I'm baffled at how this investigation has been handled."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said no one is to blame. He pointed out that security lapses occurred throughout the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, and chafed at suggestions that Mr. Berger should resign.
"There is no fall guy here," Mr. Daschle said. "I don't think it is fair to cite any one individual."
But he conceded that mistakes were made.
"Could we have done better? Yes," he said. But he said Presidents Bush, Reagan and Clinton were aware of potential security lapses, and only Mr. Clinton acted to correct the problem.
Republicans were a bit more harsh in their assessment.
Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and No. 2 Republican in the Senate, accused the Clinton administration of "gross negligence" and said he may also call for Mr. Berger's resignation. He noted that while espionage occurred throughout several administrations, it was only discovered in 1995, on Mr. Clinton's watch.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the Cox report is "very damning to the administration."
"Questions will be asked why --in the face of overwhelming evidence that these operations were taking place -- didn't the Justice Department and this administration do more to stop it," he said.
Even candidates to succeed Mr. Clinton got in on the act.
Gov. George W. Bush, Texas Republican who is contemplating a run for the White House, said the report underscored Mr. Clinton's "failed policies" toward Beijing and should trigger a review of U.S. export controls.
"The current administration calls China a strategic partner. China is not America's strategic partner. China is a competitor, a competitor which does not share our values but now unfortunately shares many of our nuclear secrets," he said in a statement.
Former Cabinet secretary Elizabeth Dole, also vying for the White House, said, "every American should be outraged."
One senior GOP aide said the public will be pummeled with that message.
"They'll hit us with guns; we'll hit them with Cox," he said.
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson has already agreed -- in writing -- to implement all 38 of the committee's recommendations to tighten security.
Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is disturbed by the gap between April 1996, when Mr. Berger learned of the security lapses, and when he opted to brief the president -- more than a year later.
"When we were told in 1996, I thought more was being done," he said. "I thought it was all the way up to the presidential level, and it was not."
But he said Mr. Berger's resignation is not necessary.
He would rather see some of the 38 solutions proposed in the Cox report implemented.
The committee recommends that the Department of Defense take over the responsibility for securing commercial satellite launches where technology could be stolen and diverted for military use.
They also proposed to tighten export controls -- specifically those surrounding the high performance computers used in military technology. The United States has allowed 600 such computers to be exported to China for commercial use. But their technology can easily be diverted for military purposes.
Some suggested a congressional oversight committee, but congressional leaders in both parties said it was too soon to commit to that.
Mr. Cox said the committee was surprised to learn of the breadth and depth of technology that China has culled over the decades.
"We were sad to learn that the PRC has stolen information on every ballistic missile and the neutron bomb," he said.
But he said it is not too late to slow China's development of nuclear missiles.
"While some of these horses have gotten out of the barn door, further technology is needed to deploy it," Mr. Cox said.
Mr. Dicks said it is not clear how much damage has been done.
"The Chinese have not deployed a single missile based on technology or information that they have obtained through espionage," he said.
Although they stole the plans for the W-88, they have not deployed it.
He said although the U.S. nuclear capacity far exceeds that of China, "the PRC's nuclear force is retaliatory in nature."
"It remains to be seen what China can make of the information it has acquired," he said.
Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the two main lessons he drew from the committee's 11-month probe are that it is not a good idea for the benefit of commerce to "overengage at the benefit of national security."
Both Mr. Cox and Mr. Dicks said they do not expect the report to affect trade relations with China.
"Nothing in our report foreordains a policy toward China," said Mr. Cox, who supports favorable trading conditions for China.
Mr. Spratt detailed key allegations that were shot down during the committee's investigation:
- That U.S. encryption technology had been compromised when the three satellites went down with their launches.
- That Motorola had helped China design a platform for offloading Iridium satellites that was a precursor to a post-boost vehicle for offloading MIRVs.
- That Hughes Electronics and Loral Space & Communications Ltd. had helped China improve the accuracy, range and payload of its rockets and missiles. The report concludes only that China's rockets and missiles may have gained reliability, but not range, payload, or accuracy.
Mr. Spratt said the most devastating of all the security lapses occurred in 1988, when the Bush administration allowed U.S. satellites to be launched on Chinese rockets.
"In taking this step, we effectively decided to underwrite the development of Chinese rockets," he said.
Mr. Spratt said that the intelligence community estimates that the PRC obtained design information on the W-70 in the late 1970s; design information on the W-88 warhead in the mid-'80s; and classified information on re-entry vehicles and weight-to-yield ratios of the W-62, W-78 and W-87 in the 1990s.
"The intelligence community does not know how big the base of this iceberg is," he said.
Return to Wen Ho Lee Page