Accessibility links

Washington Journal: U.S. Panel Asserts Massive Chinese Spying

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 26 May 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- A bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress says in a just-released report that China has stolen America's most advanced nuclear weapons technology, including secrets related to the neutron bomb that kills people but spares buildings.

The long-awaited report raises questions of a growing threat to U.S. national security and is expected to further complicate Sino-American relations already strained by the accidental U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade last month during NATO's campaign against Yugoslavia.

China has denied the spying allegations and said they were fabricated to shift attention away from the embassy bombing.

Just hours after release of the report, Defense Secretary William Cohen disclosed he was postponing a scheduled visit to China next month in part because of tension with Beijing over the bombing. Spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters Cohen wanted to stay in Washington to coordinate the NATO campaign and said now is not the right time for the secretary to visit China.

The 900-page document was written by the House of Representatives' Select Committee on National Security and received unanimous approval by the entire panel. The committee consists of five Republicans and four Democrats and is headed by congressman Christopher Cox, a California Republican

The report suggests that the alleged Chinese espionage -- which it says began two decades ago -- may still be continuing.

Cox outlined highlights of the findings to reporters.

Cox said: "What we were sad to learn is that the People's Republic of China (PRC) has stolen classified information on every currently deployed warhead in the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal. The PRC has also stolen information on the neutron bomb, which the United States has not yet deployed. These thefts began in the late 1970s, continued during the 1980s and '90s, and significantly, our report concludes, it is exceptionally likely that penetration of our U.S. national weapons laboratories continues to this very day."

The congressman said with the technology acquired, China is in a position to develop miniaturized nuclear warheads and a new missile to deliver them that could be tested soon.

Cox said: "According to the unanimous judgment of the Select Committee, the PRC will exploit elements of that stolen U.S. thermonuclear weapons information in its future designs, including a weapon that could be deployed as early as 2002."

The report faulted alleged lax security practices at U.S. nuclear weapons research facilities, including at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where a Chinese-American scientist, recently fired by the government, is suspected of having provided data to Chinese intelligence.

Cox said: "The Select Committee unanimously agreed that security at our national weapons laboratories does not meet even minimal standards and will not meet even minimal standards until sometime next year."

Reacting to the report, U.S. President Bill Clinton said during a visit to Edinburg, Texas, that he is fully committed to safeguarding America's national security.

Clinton said: "I am particularly appreciative of the careful and bipartisan manner in which the committee did its work. It has made a number of recommendations for actions to strengthen our national security protection. The overwhelming majority of those recommendations we agree with and are in the process of implementing."

A key recommendation is a periodic report to relevant members of Congress about what is being done to protect vital U.S. secrets.

Clinton said: "I want to assure you and all the American people that I will work very hard with the Congress to protect our national security, to implement the recommendations and to continue our policy of engagement (with China) because both of them are in the national interest."

The report said China has had no problems acquiring super-computers designed primarily for civilian use and converting them for military purposes.

Cox said: "The United States currently has no means to prevent high performance computers from being diverted to military purposes, and for this reason, the Select Committee has unanimously recommended that incorporated into the terms of trade in the future sales of high performance computers be realistic and serious end use verification."

The congressman added: "The administration, we unanimously found, did not adequately comply with the terms of the National Security Act requiring that reporting to Congress. In the late 1990s, the PRC illegally obtained U.S. technology to detect submarines, enabling the PRC, if they successfully complete their own work on this information, to threaten previously invulnerable U.S. nuclear submarines. In the late 1990s, the PRC illegally obtained U.S. research on electromagnetic weapons that can be used for space-based weapons."

Also reacting to the report was Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.

Lugar said the immediate focus of Clinton and Congress must be the recognition that the United States may now be at significant risk from a Chinese ballistic missile attack.

Lugar said if the U.S. determines that the Chinese missile threat will expand rapidly, it will force a rethinking of the premises on which America's defense strategy is based.

The congressional committee began its investigation last July by focusing on missile and satellite technology transfers. Its probe found that U.S. satellite manufacturers, without obtaining all the required U.S. government licenses, gave China missile design information that enabled Chinese scientists to improve the reliability of Chinese rockets used for commercial and military purposes. U.S. firms have been using satellite launches in China, where the costs are considerably less than those in the United States.

Cox said: "The PRC has mounted a widespread effort to obtain U.S. military technology by any means, legal or illegal. The PRC has induced U.S. businesses to provide military-related technology for commercial motives. The PRC has induced U.S. businesses to lobby for liberalized export standards, with the ultimate result of being able to assemble information for military purposes. " The committee also said China has acquired guidance technology now being used by U.S. missiles and advanced fighter aircraft as well as various missile technology.