Committee says Chinese spying likely 'continues to this day'
Report: Weapons not yet deployed
May 25, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China's two-decade effort to steal U.S. weapons technology, including thefts during the Clinton administration, probably "continues to this day" but has not resulted in Beijing's deployment of new weapons, according to a bipartisan congressional report released on Tuesday.
A special House committee said U.S. know-how accumulated by China -- legally and illegally -- has allowed the communist government to leap from a 1950s-style nuclear weapons program to sophisticated designs "on par with our own."
As U.S. intelligence picked up knowledge of China's activities, top government officials were "not informed in a timely fashion," said committee chairman Rep. Christopher Cox, R-California.
He also said two U.S. defense firms ignored legal restrictions, thus allowing China to obtain information critical to its ballistic missile program.
No new weapons deployed
"(China) has mounted a widespread effort to obtain U.S. military technology by any means, legal or illegal," Cox said at a news conference after copies of the unclassified 700-page report were made public.
He said the conclusions reached in the report were supported by additional volumes of classified factual material.
The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, said the report documented "one of the worse counterintelligence failures in the nation's history."
But, he added, "as of today, (China) has not deployed a single, new nuclear weapon based on information they have obtained."
White House, China reaction
The White House said Tuesday it did not agree with all of the panel's conclusions, but called recommendations for improved security "constructive" and said it was in the process of implementing them.
China has all along denied conducting any espionage against the United States.
China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said in Beijing that the allegations were cooked up by people who want to slander China and declared that "their despicable attempt is doomed to failure."
The Clinton administration first learned of the extent of the alleged espionage in 1995 when a Chinese citizen -- who, it was later learned, worked for Chinese intelligence -- gave the CIA a classified document from Beijing that demonstrated China had obtained information on U.S nuclear technology
The report originally claimed that President Clinton was made aware of the allegations in early 1998.
But National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said an earlier presidential briefing took place in 1997 so the Cox report was amended to reflect that.
Although the administration has taken steps to boost security at nuclear labs, the report says, security will "not be satisfactory until at least sometime in the year 2000."
"Despite repeated (Chinese) thefts of the most sophisticated U.S. nuclear weapons technology, security at our national nuclear weapons laboratories does not meet even minimal standards," it says.
"There are a number of reasons that intelligence services direct information in this way," Cox told CNN on Monday. "To advertise in some cases something about their strength that they want you to know. In other cases, to promote disinformation."
Criticism of Clinton administration
The bipartisan committee began investigating technology transfers to China nearly a year ago. Last fall it refocused much of its attention to espionage at U.S. weapons labs.
The committee of five Republicans and four Democrats found that the primary focus of Chinese espionage was the weapons research labs of Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore in California.
While the report criticizes the Clinton administration and how slowly it reacted when word of the espionage surfaced, it also credits Energy Secretary Bill Richardson with making long-needed improvements to the nation's vulnerable nuclear labs, which are run by his department.
Richardson told CNN on Tuesday he has taken "dramatic steps" to guard against theft of secrets by tightening computer security at weapons labs and that the report does not reflect counterintelligence and security improvements made this year.
U.S. firms provided technical know-how
The report described China's widespread use of the U.S. business community in its pursuit of both secrets and unclassified technology that might be of use militarily.
The panel's work began a year ago following accusations that campaign contributions might have influenced the Clinton administration to give favorable treatment to U.S. companies granted permission from Washington to launch satellites on Chinese rockets.
Following three launches failures, the report says, U.S. satellite manufacturers Loral Corp. and Hughes Electronics gave China unauthorized information to improve the reliability of missiles used to launch communications satellites.
The same know-how could be used to make China's nuclear missiles more reliable, the report says.
Correspondents Bob Franken and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.
Report: Stolen data gives China advanced nuclear know-how
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