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Report: Stolen data gives China advanced nuclear know-how

CNN's Pierre Thomas reports on the nuclear technology China is supposed to have stolen
Windows Media 28K 80K

Congressman Chris Cox talks with CNN about his report
Windows Media 28K 80K

CNN's Bob Franken reports on the Cox espionage report
Real 28K 80K
Windows Media 28K 80K

U.S. and China share long history of distrust

White House defends Reno, Berger in nuclear secrets case

Reno has survived Washington so far, but China probe may be different
Read the full text of the report here when it is released

'It's not good news'

May 24, 1999
Web posted at: 10:42 p.m. EDT (0242 GMT)

In this story:

'China's appetite ... insatiable'

Chinese knowledge increased by decades


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China could begin production of advanced thermonuclear weapons based on stolen U.S. design information during the next decade, according to a congressional report on Chinese nuclear espionage that will be released officially Tuesday.

Those weapons "may be tested in 1999 and could be deployed as soon as 2002," the report states.

According to the Cox report, China penetrated U.S. nuclear labs, stealing secrets about the U.S. neutron bomb and every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal -- including those for the MX Peacekeeper and Minuteman III missiles.

Also among the purloined blueprints for weapons of mass destruction: the W-88 warhead, described as "the most sophisticated nuclear weapon the United States has ever built."

All of the weapons could target the United States.

"It means that we're going to be preparing ourselves to defend against American technology used against us," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California), chairman of the House select committee that conducted the year-long investigation.

"It means that in addition to paying for our own defense, we are actually paying to arm a potential adversary," Cox said.

"It's not good news," he said. "The world is a lot less safer today as a consequence of these thefts."

The report also reveals allegations that China stole design information about U.S. submarine radar technology and illegally obtained secrets about U.S. missile guidance systems through satellite launch deals with American companies.

Cox also has accused China of obtaining information through the use of "front companies" in the United States -- a method he said is "far broader than previously realized."

"In many cases, a little piece of information might seem innocuous, but if you collect enough of them through the so-called matrix technique ... you can learn a great deal about military matters in the United States," Cox said.

'China's appetite ... insatiable'

Details of the Cox report have been trickling out for weeks amid a growing criticism of the Clinton administration's response to fix the security lapse after it was exposed in 1995.

"Some of the most significant thefts have occurred during the last four years," Cox said.

The report by his committee said "China's appetite for information and technology appears to be insatiable and the energy devoted to the task enormous."

According to investigators, the CIA first learned of the extent of the Chinese espionage in 1995 when a Chinese national approached the agency and turned over a secret Chinese government document.

The CIA later determined that the person who turned over the document worked for Chinese intelligence.

"There are a number of reasons that intelligence services direct information this way," Cox said. "To advertise in some cases something about their strength that they want you to know; in other cases, to promote disinformation."

Chinese knowledge increased by decades

According to the report, U.S. intelligence has determined the technology espionage by the Chinese, dating back to the late 1970s and continuing through the 1980s and '90s, "has leaped, in a handful of years, from 1950s-era strategic nuclear capabilities to the more modern thermonuclear weapon design."

(498 K/30 sec. audio)
Cox explains the possible implications of the loss of U.S. nuclear information
"What the PRC (People's Republic of China) has stolen has enabled them to jump over decades of incremental development that were necessary, for example, for the United States," said Cox.

The sharpest criticism for the theft of U.S. nuclear secrets is directed toward the Clinton administration and how slowly it reacted when word of the espionage surfaced.

"It does make one wonder how it is, how others who possessed this information could so readily have dismissed it, or not acted upon it," Cox said.

The report credits Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for making long-needed security improvements to the nation's vulnerable nuclear labs, run by the Department of Energy.

In March, Richardson fired a longtime scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Wen Ho Lee, because of security violations as well as suspicions of espionage.

The report concludes: Chinese "penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades and almost certainly continues today."

The House investigative committee was formed in the wake of accusations that campaign contributions might have influenced the Clinton administration to give favorable trade treatment to U.S. companies seeking waivers to launch satellites on Chinese rockets.

But following the failures of some of those launches, U.S. satellite manufacturers Loral Corp. and Hughes Electronics allegedly gave China unauthorized design information.

"... Such information would likely find its way into the PRC's ballistic missile program," the congressional report said. "Ballistic and space launch programs have long been intertwined."

Bob Franken and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

Shelby: Reno should resign over China espionage probe
May 23, 1999
Report: China benefited from stolen nuclear secrets
May 20, 1999
Congressman calls alleged Chinese spying 'grave'
May 16, 1999
Sources: Report finds China stole 'sensitive' nuclear data
May 14, 1999
Reno defends computer-search caution in Los Alamos case
May 13, 1999
Senate spotlights nuclear security lapses
May 12, 1999
U.S. State Department issues travel warning for China
May 10, 1999

Chinese Embassy to the U.S.
Office of the Director of Central Intelligence
Consulate General of the People's Republic of China
China Today
Department of Energy
Department of Justice
  • Attorney General Janet Reno
The White House
  • National Security Council
  • Biography of Samuel Berger
Los Alamos National Laboratory
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