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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

Aftershocks from the Cox Report on China Nuclear Spying

Summary of Developments On 25 May, the unclassified version of the Final Report of the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China - known as the 'Cox Report' after its Chair, Californian Republican Christopher Cox - published its sensational findings concerning the extent and depth of Chinese nuclear-weapons espionage in US Department of Energy laboratories. See last issue for extracts).

On 27 May, the Senate adopted a range of proposals reflecting many of the recommendations of the Report. Attempts by Republicans to obtain speedy approval for more far-reaching reforms, including a drastic overhaul of the Energy Department, were blocked by Democrats who threatened to hold up adoption of the Defense Authorization Bill. Republican tactics were criticised by the senior Democrat on the Cox Report panel, Norman Dicks (Washington), who complained (27 May): "It's an insult. I am very disappointed that the Republican leadership has chosen to take a partisan approach to implementing our report. We spent nine months working on this." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Missouri) was equally unhappy, stating (27 May): "I'm very disappointed... This does not bode well for us being able to deal with the China problem and security in a bipartisan way..."

On 28 May, a letter sent to President Clinton and signed by over 80 Republican members of Congress demanded the resignation of National Security Advisor Sandy Berger over the issue. The letter claimed: "Mr. Berger has failed in his responsibility as this nation's National Security Advisor by not properly informing you of the most serious espionage ever committed against the United States..." There were also strong demands for the resignation of Attorney-General Janet Reno for not authorising the wiretapping of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory suspected of espionage and subsequently dismissed. Both officials have strongly defended the probity and competence of their actions, and have received the full support of the President.

On 9 June, an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, proposed by Cox, was adopted by 428 votes to 0. The amendment, parallel to the 27 May measures approved in the Senate, mandates regular reports - first falling due on 1 January 2000 - to be submitted to Congress from the Administration on three areas of concern raised by the Cox Report: compliance by China, Russia and other States with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); technology transfers to China; and the transfer of satellites and related items from the Department of Commerce's Dual-Use Item List to the United States Munitions List, a reform required by the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act 1999. The Amendment also incorporates other Cox Report recommendations, including a revision of rules governing satellite export licensing, verifying the end-use of high-performance computers exported to China, the establishment of a Department of Defense Office of Technology Security, and the mandating of a semi-annual report top Congress on the efforts of all relevant Departments and agencies "to respond to espionage and other intelligence activities by the People's Republic of China..." After the amendment was adopted, Cox stated: "This represents unfinished business for Congress. There is much work to do..."

The same day, another amendment to the Authorization Bill, introduced by Texan Republican Tom DeLay and adopted by 284 votes to 143, banned military-to-military US-China contacts. An amendment seeking to introduce a two-year moratorium on visits to US labs by foreign scientists, was defeated by 266 votes to 159. On 8 June, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) released a report concluding, in the words of an Energy Department summary, "that broad scientific benefits of international collaborations at the...national laboratories make it essential to the scientific and technological strength of the United States" and that it is quite possible to ensure that "foreign national visitors and assignees can safely have managed access to DOE's laboratories and other facilities without jeopardizing national security." Energy Secretary Bill Richardson welcomed the SEAB report, arguing: "The findings support the view that if you have a good security program, you can also have effective international scientific collaboration. In fact, strong international cooperation is essential to our national scientific and security programs."

On 15 June, another damning report into security at US nuclear laboratories, this time from the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), was released. The Board, Chaired by former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, pulled no punches in criticising the Department of Energy's handling of the US nuclear weapons programme:

"For the past two decades [since its inception in 1977], the Department of Energy has embodied science at its best and security at its worst. ...Organizational disarray, managerial neglect and a culture of arrogance - both at DOE headquarters and the labs themselves - conspired to create an espionage scandal waiting to happen. ... The panel found a Department saturated with cynicism, an arrogant disregard for authority, and a staggering pattern of denial. ... Even after President Clinton [ordered]...fundamental changes in security procedures, compliance by Department bureaucrats was grudging and belated. ... The Department of Energy is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that has proven it is incapable of reforming itself. ... The predominant attitude toward security and counterintelligence among many DOE and lab managers has ranged from halfhearted, grudging accommodation to smug disregard. ... Perhaps most troubling...is the evidence that the lab bureaucracies, after months at the epicentre of an espionage scandal with serious implications for US foreign policy, are still resisting reforms."

The Rudman Report suggested that the President consider two alternatives for reform: establish a new, independent nuclear weapons agency; or establish a "semi-autonomous" agency within the Energy Department to assume control of the nuclear weapons programme. Secretary Richardson, however, soon made clear that neither option was acceptable to him. Testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee on 9 June, Richardson stated, referring to the second option: "To set up an agency, a fiefdom, in a Department of fiefdoms, is not what I need..." Richardson set out his broad case as follows:

"To demonstrate the dangers inherent in changing our system, we need only look at the Russian nuclear weapons programme, where nuclear design and development is under military control. Following such failed models is plainly not in our national security interest. ... One reason the China espionage problem festered at the Department of Energy - from the late 1970s to the 1990s - is that there was inadequate management structure and information to assure proper Secretarial oversight on Department programs and labs... What is needed is more accountability, not less. What is needed is better oversight and better coordination, Department-wide, not worse..."

Richardson also told the Committee that if the Senate chose to adopt legislation being proposed by Senators Pete Dominici (Republican - New Mexico), John Kyl (Republic - Arizona) and Frank Murkowski (Republican - Alaska) to establish a National Security Administration within the Energy Department to assume responsibility for the US nuclear weapons programme, he would urge President Clinton to veto the measure.

On 16 June, Richardson announced the appointment of retired Air Force General Eugene E. Habiger, former Commander-in-Chief of US Strategic Command, as the Director of the new Office of Security and Emergency Operations - a post popularly known as the 'security czar'. According to an Energy Department statement, the new Office "consolidates all the Department's security, cyber-security, chief information officer, counter-terrorism and nuclear emergency response programs. It will also include a new Office of Foreign Visits and Assignments Policy. In this position, Habiger will be responsible for implementing Secretary Richardson's comprehensive security reform plan [Editor's note: see last issue, pp. 55-7]. ... He reports directly to the Secretary and will begin overseeing the reorganization in early July."

Quotes & Reaction: US

Representative Doug Bereuter (Republican - Nebraska), 25 May: "There's no surprise that our nuclear labs...were a target of espionage by China and other countries. That's not a shock. What is so gravely disappointing...is the fact that we had the incompetence, the naiveté and the lax security to have permitted this to happen."

George W. Bush, Governor of Texas and candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination, 25 May: "The current Administration calls China a strategic partner. China is not America's strategic partner. China is a competitor, a competitor which does not share our values but now, unfortunately, shares many of our nuclear secrets. ... It's unfortunate that China has been stealing secrets during Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. But there is only one Administration that has been given the news; only one Administration knew - and that's the Clinton Administration. The interesting question is when did they know? ... I think the balance of power is going to shift as a result of this... I think it's going to accelerate China's emergence as a nuclear power. And the next President and Presidents after that are going to have to deal with that."

President Clinton, 25 May: "I strongly believe that our continuing engagement with China has produced benefits for our national security... I want to assure...all of the American people that I will work very hard with Congress to protect our national security, to implement the recommendations, and to continue our policy of engagement, because both of them are in the national interest..."

Christopher Cox, 26 May: "We did not engage in opinion. We reported only facts, and that is why we could agree with one another..."

Elizabeth Dole, former cabinet Secretary and candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination, 25 May: "Previous Administrations must share the blame...but this Administration knew more and chose not to take action..."

Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, 26 May: "I am worried about the deterioration in our relations with China..."

Trent Lott, 28 May: "We're not going to get real security until we have a whole other arrangement at DOE... It's not about fixing blame. It's about fixing the problem."

Robert Norris, Natural Resources Defence Council, 26 May: "The depiction of China as an impending nuclear nemesis just does not accord with the facts..."

Statement by Energy Secretary Richardson, 25 May: "Congressmen Cox and Dicks have produced an in-depth report that underscores the importance of the aggressive actions we have taken to strengthen counterintelligence and security at the national laboratories. This is a landmark report... I also want to put this report into proper perspective. There is no evidence of a 'wholesale' loss of information. The intelligence community has concluded that classified information obtained by China 'probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons.' But they don't know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired and they can't determine the full extent of weapons information obtained. It is also important to note that despite the potential loss, the United States still maintains an overwhelming nuclear weapons superiority; we have some 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads whereas China has less than two dozen strategic missiles. The Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons development. ... It would be a mistake to attempt to use this report for political gain. The report details suspected espionage that allegedly spanned over three decades... We support the majority of the recommendations made by the Cox-Dicks Committee and we are committed to working with the Congress to further strengthen and ensure adequate funding to implement these measures."

Statement by Richardson, responding to the Rudman Report, 15 June: "In fact, I believe the security and counterintelligence problems at the Department of Energy are broader than the Board realizes. These problems cut across the entire Department and are not limited to the weapons labs and production sites. ... Plutonium located at our environmental management sites demands the same level of security as plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory and classified research at Argonne National Laboratory needs to be just as secure from espionage as nuclear designs at the Livermore National Laboratory.

I have strong reservations about the Board's recommendation to establish a semi-independent or independent agency for nuclear weapons matters. By establishing an autonomous structure within a new agency, the Board's recommendation would risk eroding the link between national security and 'science at its best,' which has been the strength of our nuclear deterrent from its very inception. I am also concerned that the US nuclear deterrent deserves cabinet level attention. The Board's recommendations would place it in a less prominent position where the tension between programmatic goals and security would persist."

Senator Bob Smith (Republican - New Hampshire), candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination, 25 May: "[The Clinton Administration does not] have a good track record on answering questions. But they are going to start. Because this is not Monica Lewinsky. This is espionage by the Chinese Government."

Quotes and Reaction: China

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhu Bangzao, 27 May: "China is not like the United States - we have no policy of stealing from other nations, and China has never stolen any nuclear secrets from any country, including America... Cox and his ilk do not hesitate in using all kinds of despicable means and even go to extremes to create rumours and confuse the public in whipping up anti-China sentiment... The so-called report has no factual basis and was written with political motives. It is doomed to fail."

Cabinet Spokesperson Zhao Qizheng, 31 May: "Performance data on the seven types of nuclear warheads...have long been openly published in the United States... They are no longer secrets, so there is nothing to steal... This [report] is a great slander against the Chinese nation and is typical racist prejudice." Editor's note: to back up his point about the ready availability of information on US warheads, Zhao Qizheng logged onto the website of the Federation of American Scientists (http://www.fas.org) to show reporters the wealth of detail available there.

US Ambassador Li Zhao Xing, 28 May: "We didn't steal any nuclear weapons knowledge from this country and we will never do that... It is wrong, vicious and irresponsible to whip up a sweeping hysteria to serve some politicians'...own agenda... How can they believe that they can convince people that America, according to their declassified information on intelligence, with more than 6,000...nuclear warheads, can be threatened by a developing country with not more than two dozens of nuclear warheads?"

Reports: China accused of stealing secrets, Associated Press, 25 May; Bush criticizes Clinton over China, Associated Press, 25 May; China denounces 'hostile' US spy report, Reuters, 25 May; Secretary Richardson points to dramatic progress in strengthening counterintelligence and security, US Department of Energy Press Release R-99-125, 25 May; China rejects allegations of spying, Associated Press, 25 May; Presidential candidates pounce on Cox report, Reuters, 26 May; Clinton says engaging China paying dividends, Reuters, 26 May; China spy furor may be overreaction, Associated Press, 26 May; Senate leader tables technology security measures, Reuters, 26 May; China denies spying, blasts US over Cox report, Reuters, 27 May; Senate tightens up on tech exports, Associated Press, 27 May; Senate debates on China derailed by dispute, Reuters, 28 May; China envoy calls report 'vicious', Associated Press, 28 May; White House Aide's ouster urged, Berger won't quit, Reuters, 28 May; Chinese envoy links spy charges to WTO entry talks, Reuters, 29 May; China dismisses nuclear theft charges as absurd, Reuters, 31 May; China says US nuclear 'secrets' on Internet, Reuters, 1 June; US won't rebuff researchers despite spy scandal, Reuters, 1 June; US report says foreigners needed in laboratories, Reuters, 8 June; Secretary of Energy Advisory Board releases report on Energy Department's Foreign visits and Assignments Program, US Department of Energy Press Release R-99-139, 8 June; Tighter nuclear lab security sought, Associated Press, 10 June; Cox amendment on export, proliferation controls for China, United States Information Service, 10 June; Text - Richardson June 9 Senate Intelligence Committee testimony, United States Information Service, 10 June; Excerpts on nuclear security report, Associated Press, 14 June; Panel says security is resisted, Associated Press, 15 June; Nuclear Weapons Agency gets support, Associated Press, 15 June; Statement by Secretary of Energy Richardson on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board Report, US Department of Energy Press Release R-99-147, 15 June; Richardson selects security 'czar', US Department of Energy Press Release R-99-149, 16 June.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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