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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 52, November 2000

FBI Reassesses China Espionage Evidence

On October 19, the Washington Post reported that the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) and CIA had decided to switch the emphasis of their investigations into possible Chinese military espionage away from the appropriation of nuclear information in the Department of Energy towards the appropriation of missile information from the Department of Defense. The reported reorientation is said to follow an FBI review of documents provided by a Chinese defector in 1995, which initially led to a ' scare' concerning Energy Department nuclear weapons laboratories. On October 27, the Pentagon announced it was recruiting 450 additional counterintelligence specialists to operate in its facilities, particularly those connected to missile technology research, development and production.

The most prominent case to emerge out of the investigations in the Department of Energy since 1995 was that of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee, released from custody in mid-September after pleading guilty to one of 59 counts of espionage and mishandling classified information (see extensive coverage in recent issues). On November 2, in an interview with the Washington Post, Daniel J. Bruno, the Energy Department official who first identified Dr. Lee as a suspect, denied any suggestion that he or his colleagues were motivated by racial prejudice against the Taiwanese-born physicist. According to Bruno: "I upheld the principles of the United States. I did nothing untoward, nothing immoral and nothing illegal..."

On November 10, an unspecified number of employees at Los Alamos were disciplined but not dismissed following the disappearance of classified information at the lab in May. The information, contained on computer hard drives, was subsequently located in a previously searched area.

On October 20, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced he was commissioning an independent study, to be carried out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), to examine ways of strengthening security throughout the Department. According to Richardson: "This study will assess the challenges facing the Department in operating premier scientific institutions in the 21st century. It should provide the next Administration with an independent basis for taking the action needed to strengthen science and security." An initial assessment has been requested from CSIS by January 15, 2001.

On October 30, President Clinton signed into law the Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 Defense Authorization Act (see last issue for details of nuclear-weapons, missile-defence and non-proliferation items). The President expressed his dissatisfaction at two items relating to the issue of security at the Energy Department:

"First, the Act would limit to 3 years the term of office for the first person appointed to the position of Under Secretary for Nuclear Security at the Department of Energy and would restrict the President' ability to remove that official to cases of ', neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.' Particularly in light of the sensitive duties assigned to this officer in the area of national security, I understand the phrase ' of duty' to include, among other things, a failure to comply with the lawful directives or policies of the President.

Second, I am deeply disappointed that the Congress has taken upon itself to set greatly increased polygraph requirements that are unrealistic in scope, impractical in execution, and that would be strongly counterproductive in their impact on our national security. The bill also micromanages the Secretary of Energy' authority to grant temporary waivers to the polygraph requirement in a potentially damaging way, by explicitly directing him not to consider the scientific vitality of DOE laboratories. This directs the Secretary not to do his job, since maintaining the scientific vitality of DOE national laboratories is essential to our national security and is one of the Secretary' most important responsibilities. I am therefore signing the bill with the understanding that it cannot supersede the Secretary' responsibility to fulfil his national security obligations."

Notes: in late October, an election advertisement supporting George W. Bush, although funded and produced independently of the Governor' campaign, sought to heighten fears of Chinese nuclear blackmail of the United States. The advertisement recast the famous 1964 ' Ad' run by the Democrats against Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, depicting a young girl picking petals from a daisy in parallel to a countdown to nuclear war. In the pro-Bush version, the scene is recreated in juxtaposition with warnings of threats from China and a countdown to a nuclear attack. A voiceover states: "Red China was given access and sold vital technology that will give China the ability to threaten our homes with long-range nuclear warheads... Don' take a chance. Please vote Republican." At the request of the Bush campaign, the ad was withdrawn on October 28, after airing in a number of battleground states for three days. Shortly before the withdrawal, a spokesperson for the Gore campaign, Chris Lehane, noted angrily (October 28): "This is the hidden hand of the right-wing swooping down..." On October 27, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman told a press conference: "I don' believe the American people are going to stand for this. This kind of politics is not going to work."

Reports: China spy probe shifts to missiles, Washington Post, October 19; China spy probe shifts to defense, Associated Press, October 19; Secretary Richardson commissions study to strengthen science and security, US Department of Energy Press Release R-00-271, October 20; Pentagon hiring specialists to guard secrets, Reuters, October 27; Gore campaign criticizes '' ad, Associated Press, October 27; Gore campaign slams recreation of 1964 ' ad', Reuters, October 27; Controversial anti-Gore ' ad' withdrawn, Reuters, October 28; Statement by the President, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, October 30; Clinton signs defense authorization act, Reuters, October 30; Prober - Lee' ethnicity wasn' factor, Washington Post, November 2; Secret weapon info missing at lab, Associated Press, November 10; Los Alamos scientists won' be fired, Washington Post, November 10.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.