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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

Chinese Nuclear Espionage Allegations & Security of US Labs

Editor's note: see last issue, and News Review in this issue, for background, further details and reaction.

Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Damage Assessment

DCI Statement

Editor's note: the Director of Central Intelligence is George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

'DCI Statement on Damage Assessment,' CIA text, 21 April 1999

"Earlier this year, the Cox Committee recommended that appropriate Executive Branch departments and agencies conduct a comprehensive damage assessment on the implications of China's acquisition of US nuclear weapons information regarding the development of future Chinese weapons. In February, I appointed Robert Walpole, the National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, to lead this effort. Mr. Walpole convened an interagency group including CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], DOE [Department of Energy], DoD [Department of Defense], DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], NSA [National Security Agency], INR, FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], both CIA's and the National Counterintelligence Centers, and multiple weapons designers, experts, and analysts from the national laboratories at Los Alamos, Lawrence, Livermore, and Sandia to draft the assessment.

The assessment consisted of a thorough analysis of China's nuclear weapons program to identify where and how US information played a role. Mr. Walpole told members of the damage assessment team to view their efforts through the lens of what we know, what we don't know, what we can't know, what we judge based on evidence, and what we speculate based on experience.

The Administration, in its response to the Cox Committee recommendation for the damage assessment, determined that the findings of the assessment should be reviewed by an independent panel of nuclear experts. In March, I asked Admiral David Jeremiah to lead a panel of weapons and national security experts to include General Brent Scowcroft, Dr. John Foster, Mr. Richard Kerr, Dr. Roland Herbst, and Mr. Howard Schue. They reviewed the assessment and its findings, met with the Community team, and concluded that they concurred with the assessment.

The damage assessment contains the most sensitive intelligence, nuclear weapons, and law enforcement information. We have not held back anything in its preparation, and the full report has been shared with the Administration and the appropriate congressional committees. Despite the extraordinary sensitivity of the information in the assessment, the independent panel has worked with the damage assessment team to produce a set of unclassified key findings. These findings are completely consistent with the classified key findings in the assessment. They are attached.

I wish to thank the damage assessment team for the thorough, extremely professional way they approached and carried out their responsibilities. I also wish to thank Admiral Jeremiah's panel for their very important contribution. I have taken on board the observations they have made.

Safeguarding our nuclear secrets and other weapons-related secrets is a matter of utmost seriousness - an issue of critical importance to our national security. My colleagues at the Department of Energy and in law enforcement have taken a number of aggressive steps to protect sensitive information, tighten security, and prevent future breaches. These matters will require continued vigilance in the years ahead."

Key Findings

'The Intelligence Community Damage Assessment on the Implications of China's Acquisition of US Nuclear Weapons Information on the Development of Future Chinese Weapons,' released by the CIA, 21 April 1999

"Chinese strategic nuclear efforts have focused on developing and deploying a survivable long-range missile force that can hold a significant portion of the US and Russian populations at risk in a retaliatory strike. By at least the late 1970s the Chinese launched an ambitious collection program focused on the US, including its national laboratories, to acquire nuclear weapons technologies. By the 1980s China recognized that its second strike capability might be in jeopardy unless its force became more survivable. This probably prompted the Chinese to heighten their interest in smaller and lighter nuclear weapon systems to permit a mobile force.

China obtained by espionage classified US nuclear weapons information that probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons. This collection program allowed China to focus successfully down critical paths and avoid less promising approaches to nuclear weapon designs.

  • China obtained at least basic design information on several modern US nuclear reentry vehicles, including the Trident II (W88).
  • China also obtained information on a variety of US weapon design concepts and weaponization features, including those of the neutron bomb.
  • We cannot determine the full extent of weapon information obtained. For example, we do not know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired.
  • We believe it is more likely that the Chinese used US design information to inform their own program than to replicate US weapon designs.
China's technical advances have been made on the basis of classified and unclassified information derived from espionage, contact with US and other countries' scientists, conferences and publications, unauthorized media disclosures, declassified US weapons information, and Chinese indigenous development. The relative contribution of each cannot be determined.

Regardless of the source of the weapons information, it has made an important contribution to the Chinese objective to maintain a second strike capability and provided useful information for future designs.

Significant deficiencies remain in the Chinese weapons program. The Chinese almost certainly are using aggressive collection efforts to address deficiencies as well as to obtain manufacturing and production capabilities from both nuclear and nonnuclear sources.

To date, the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.

China has had the technical capability to develop a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) system for its large, currently deployed ICBM for many years, but has not done so. US information acquired by the Chinese could help them develop a MIRV for a future mobile missile.

We do not know if US classified nuclear information acquired by the Chinese has been passed to other countries. Having obtained more modern US nuclear technology, the Chinese might be less concerned about sharing their older technology."

Introductory Note from the Review Panel

Released by the CIA, 21 April 1999

"This damage assessment was reviewed by a panel of independent, national security and weapons experts - Admiral David Jeremiah, General Brent Scowcroft, Dr. John Foster, Mr. Richard Kerr, Dr. Roland Herbst, and Mr. Howard Schue - prior to its publication. The panel members reviewed the report, held a question-and-answer session with the team, discussed the report amongst themselves, and concluded that they concurred with the report. The panel then worked with the team to develop a set of unclassified findings, which are completely consistent with the classified Key Findings in the damage assessment.

The panel would add the following observations:

  • It is important to understand Chinese strategic objectives in assessing their efforts to acquire technical information on US nuclear weapons. The need to preserve their second strike capability, their regional concerns, and their perceptions of future national and regional ballistic defenses have driven collection efforts.
  • The Chinese continue to have major gaps in their weapons program. We should seek to identify Chinese efforts to fill these gaps as indicators of future program direction and to provide insight into counterintelligence issues.
  • The panel feels strongly that there is too little depth across the Intelligence Community's analytic elements and they are too frequently occupied with whatever current crisis takes front stage. The necessity to pull Intelligence Community analysts and linguists off other activities to assess the compromises to US nuclear weapons programs and their value to the Chinese further reinforces the panel's view that the depth of Intelligence Community technical and language expertise has eroded.
  • A separate net assessment should be made of formal and informal US contacts with the Chinese (and Russian) nuclear weapons specialists. The value of these contacts to the US, including to address issues of concern - safety, command and control, and proliferation - should not be lost in our concern about protecting secrets.
  • The panel recognizes that countries have gained access to classified US information on a variety of subjects for decades, through espionage, leaks, or other venues. While such losses were and continue to be unacceptable, our research and development efforts generally kept us technologically ahead of those who sought to emulate weapons systems using our information. However, decreases in research efforts have diminished the protective edge we could have over those using our information, making such losses much more significant in today's world."
Source: Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website, http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/dci042199.html

Response by Energy Secretary

'On the Intelligence Community Damage Assessment On the Implications of China's Acquisition of US Nuclear Weapons Information On the Development of Future Chinese Weapons,' Statemeny by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, 21 April 1999

"The damage assessment team has produced important findings that help clarify what we know and what we don't know about China's acquisition of nuclear weapons information. The assessment confirms that China obtained by espionage classified US nuclear weapons information and further underscores the importance of the very aggressive actions we have taken to strengthen counterintelligence and security at our weapons laboratories.

Since becoming Secretary of Energy, I have made a number of changes to help ensure that our secrets are safely guarded. We've imposed a stand-down of classified computers at the weapons labs, to better protect classified and sensitive information and implement a state-of-the-art cyber-security program across the complex. We're instituting polygraphs for employees with access to the most sensitive DOE programs, doing background checks on visitors from sensitive countries, and we have more than doubled the counterintelligence budget to $39.2 million in 2000."

Source: Text - Richardson on Intelligence Community damage assessment, United States Information Service, 22 April.

Energy Department Press Release

'Secretary Richardson Orders Additional Measures to Strengthen Security at Department of Energy Sites: Security Report for 1997 and 1998 Sent to Congress,' US Department of Energy (DOE) Press Release, R-99-061

"Secretary Richardson today sent to Congress the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Annual Report on Safeguards and Security at its nuclear weapons facilities. Secretary Richardson also authorized the release of an unclassified version of the report and outlined a series of measures being taken to strengthen departmental security.

The report evaluates physical safeguards and security at 12 facilities for 1997 and 1998, using a three-tiered rating system. Nine of the 12 received the top rating of satisfactory. Three operations, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the department's Transportation Safeguards Division, received the rating of marginal. None received the lowest rating of unsatisfactory. The report concludes that no nuclear materials at the sites are at risk.

A marginal rating indicates that some aspect of the multi-faceted safeguards and security process requires improvement, but that overall security will adequately protect nuclear materials and sensitive information. … The management at each of the operations with marginal ratings has committed to making the necessary improvements to meet the standards of the highest rating as quickly as possible.

'There has been progress in the past couple of years, and I'm committed to correcting the remaining problems,' Secretary Richardson said. 'The report projects that all facilities will reach an overall satisfactory rating in 1999 if the present corrective actions - already under way - continue on their present course, and I will hold them to it. I have told our security office and the sites that received marginal ratings that I expect to see improvements made on schedule. I have also asked for an additional assessment in July of the three operations that received marginal grades to make sure that security is being strengthened, in addition to taking other actions to strengthen security at all DOE sites.'

Richardson has directed that several actions be taken to address vulnerabilities identified in the report, including:

  • hiring additional security personnel and security maintenance technicians;
  • improving and testing plans to recover special nuclear materials in the unlikely event they are diverted;
  • finalizing efforts to ensure that materials accounting systems are accurate;
  • eliminating the backlog of re-investigations of existing security clearances;
  • increasing by $8 million the FY 2000 budget request to better protect cyber systems;
  • asking Under Secretary Ernest Moniz to lead a team that includes Ed Curran, director of the Office of Counterintelligence, and Joe Mahaley, the director of the Office of Security Affairs, to make inspection visits to the five national security laboratories (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest national laboratories). The team is reviewing security and counterintelligence procedures and protections, emphasizing the importance of making rapid progress in strengthening protection, and meeting with local FBI officials to assess ongoing cooperation. These site reviews began on March 19, at Los Alamos;
  • ordering an interim security review in July of the three operations rated marginal; and
  • instructing the department's Security Council to examine the authorities and responsibilities of the department's security function to determine what steps could further strengthen the department's safeguards and security program.
Secretary Richardson is putting particular emphasis on strengthening the protection of computer systems. The additional $8 million in requested funding will be used to help further secure the department's classified and unclassified computer networks. The improvements will help strengthen fire walls, develop additional intrusion detection devices, and fund rapid response teams to work with the FBI to detect and track cyber intruders. The improvements will also allow for greater security in the department's unclassified e-mail systems and strengthen protection of the classified computer systems.

In 1997, the department augmented security at DOE sites by deploying new technologies to safeguard special nuclear materials and weapons; working with other agencies to train departmental protective forces; identifying and building more sophisticated detection and deterrent systems; hiring more new security personnel; bringing in additional security experts to independently assess departmental readiness; and developing a system to constantly re-evaluate and improve protection against hackers and other cyber-intrusions. The independent experts have also concluded that while there is a continuing need for improvements in safeguards and security, there is no present danger to nuclear materials at any DOE site.

The report covers safeguards and security aspects at the Department of Energy's 12 nuclear weapons related sites. These are: the Kansas City Plant, KS; the Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM; the Nevada Test Site, NV; the Tonopah Test Range, NV; the Pantex Plant, TX; the Sandia National Laboratory, NM and CA; the Transportation Safeguards Division based in Albuquerque, NM; the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA; the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN; the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, CO; and the Savannah River Tritium Facility, SC. The report covers 1997 and 1998. The 1998 report is being delivered six months early to the Congress.

'I wanted the 1998 report completed early so we could have a current and complete picture of DOE safeguards and security. I'm committed to working with Congress to strengthen security at DOE sites and to keep the appropriate committees fully informed of our work,' Richardson said.

Since coming to the department in the fall, Secretary Richardson has taken action to implement President Clinton's February 1998 Decision Directive (PDD-61) by putting in place a series of strong measures to strengthen the counterintelligence capability at DOE labs and facilities."

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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