China Briefing Fallout (3/13/97)
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The Intelligence Trail
Monitoring Chinese communications leads to suspicions of plot to influence U.S. elections
By Wolf Blitzer/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 13) -- Early last year, the super-secret National Security Agency intercepted sensitive information suggesting China might try to influence U.S. congressional elections by using agents to launder campaign money.
Sources say intercepts of communications between Chinese government officials hinted vaguely at China's alleged motivation: jealousy and anger at Taiwan's success in promoting its interests in Washington.
These tensions were underlined by the Clinton Administration's decision in 1995 to grant Taiwanese President Lee Teng-Hui a visa to visit the United States, despite the fact that the U.S. doesn't recognize Taiwan and China regards Taiwan as its property.
So far, the U.S. government regards all of this as strictly a suspicion. Officials say they have no conclusive evidence and the Chinese government has flatly denied it.
But the intercepts were enough to raise alarms in Washington and for the FBI last June to warn six members of Congress and two officials at the National Security Council at the White House.
Attorney General Janet Reno says she was alarmed enough to want to brief then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, but she says she was unable to reach him personally.
When Reno was asked today if she spoke with Lake about the issue, she answered, "No, because I was told the [FBI] briefing went forward."
During his CIA confirmation hearings, Lake said it's "imaginable" that China might engage in such a plot.
"We have to be very alert to Chinese or any country's intelligence activities and efforts to gain agents in the United States," Lake said.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raised the issue during her recent visit in Beijing while sources say Vice President Al Gore is also expected to do the same when he visits China later this month.
CNN has learned that the raw intelligence information available to the FBI has not even been provided to the National Security Council at the White House.
But experts say that's not necessarily unusual, given the need to protect what the intelligence community describes as sensitive sources and methods.
A Justice Department task force is trying to determine whether the alleged Chinese plot was simply random talk among Chinese officials or whether it actually resulted in illegal campaign contributions.
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