PRC Theft of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Design Information
The Peopleís Republic of China (PRC) has stolen classified information on all of the United Statesí most advanced thermonuclear warheads, and several of the associated reentry vehicles. These thefts are the result of an intelligence collection program spanning two decades, and continuing to the present. The PRC intelligence collection program included espionage, review of unclassified publications, and extensive interactions with scientists from the Department of Energyís national weapons laboratories.
The stolen U.S. secrets have helped the PRC fabricate and successfully test modern strategic thermonuclear weapons. The stolen information includes classified information on seven U.S. thermonuclear warheads, including every currently deployed thermonuclear warhead in the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. Together, these include the W-88 Trident D-5 thermonuclear warhead, and the W-56 Minuteman II, the W-62 Minuteman III, the W-70 Lance, the W-76 Trident C-4, the W-78 Minuteman III Mark 12A, and the W-87 Peacekeeper thermonuclear warheads. The stolen information also includes classified design information for an enhanced radiation weapon (commonly known as the "neutron bomb"), which neither the United States, nor any other nation, has ever deployed.
In addition, in the mid-1990s the PRC stole from a U.S. national weapons laboratory classified U.S. thermonuclear weapons information that cannot be identified in this unclassified Report. Because this recent espionage case is currently under investigation and involves sensitive intelligence sources and methods, the Clinton administration has determined that further information cannot be made public.
The W-88 is a miniaturized, tapered thermonuclear warhead. It is the United Statesí most sophisticated strategic thermonuclear weapon. In the U.S. arsenal, the W-88 warhead is mated to the D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile carried aboard the Trident nuclear submarine. The United States learned about the theft of the W-88 Trident D-5 warhead information, as well as about the theft of information regarding several other thermonuclear weapons, in 1995.
On two occasions, the PRC has stolen classified U.S. information about neutron warheads from a U.S. national weapons laboratory. The United States learned of these thefts of classified information on the neutron bomb in 1996 and in the late 1970s, when the first theft -- including design information on the W-70 warhead -- occurred. The W-70 warhead contains elements that may be used either as a strategic thermonuclear weapon, or as an enhanced radiation weapon ("neutron bomb"). The PRC subsequently tested the neutron bomb. The U.S. has never deployed a neutron weapon.
In addition, the Select Committee is aware of other PRC thefts of U.S. thermonuclear weapons-related secrets. The Clinton administration has determined that further information about these thefts cannot be publicly disclosed.
The Select Committee judges that the PRC will exploit elements of the stolen U.S. design information for the development of the PRCís new generation strategic thermonuclear warheads. Current PRC silo-based missiles were designed for large, multi-megaton thermonuclear warheads roughly equivalent to U.S. warheads of the late 1950s. The PRC plans to supplement these silo-based missiles with smaller, modern mobile missiles that require smaller warheads. The PRC has three mobile ICBM programs currently underway ñ two road-mobile and one submarine launched program ñ all of which will be able to strike the United States.
The first of these new Peopleís Liberation Army (PLA) mobile ICBMs, the DF-31, may be tested in 1999 and could be deployed as soon as 2002. The DF-31 ICBM and the PRCís other new generation mobile ICBMs will require smaller, more compact warheads. The stolen U.S. information on the W-70 or W-88 Trident D-5 will be useful for this purpose.
The PRC has the infrastructure and technical ability to use elements of the stolen U.S. warhead design information in the PLAís next generation of thermonuclear weapons. If the PRC attempted to deploy an exact replica of the U.S. W-88 Trident D-5 warhead, it would face considerable technical challenges. However, the PRC could build modern thermonuclear warheads based on stolen U.S. design information, including the stolen W-88 design information, using processes similar to those developed or available in a modern aerospace or precision guided munitions industry. The Select Committee judges that the PRC has such infrastructure and is capable of producing small thermonuclear warheads based on the stolen U.S. design information, including the stolen W-88 information.
The Select Committee judges that the PRC is likely to continue its work on advanced thermonuclear weapons based on the stolen U.S. design information. The PRC could begin serial production of advanced thermonuclear weapons based on stolen U.S. design information during the next decade in connection with the development of its new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Select Committee judges that the PRCís acquisition of U.S. classified information regarding thermonuclear warhead designs from the Department of Energyís national weapons laboratories saved the PRC years of effort and resources, and helped the PRC in its efforts to fabricate and successfully test a new generation of thermonuclear warheads. The PRCís access to, and use of, classified U.S. information does not immediately alter the strategic balance between the U.S. and PRC. Once the PRCís small, mobile strategic ballistic missiles are deployed, however, they will be far more difficult to locate than the PRCís current silo-based missiles. This will make the PRCís strategic nuclear force more survivable. Small, modern nuclear warheads also enable the PRC to deploy multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs or MIRVs, multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles) on its ICBMs should it choose to do so.
The PRCís collection of intelligence on smaller U.S. thermonuclear warheads began in the 1970s, when the PRC recognized its weaknesses in physics and the deteriorating status of its nuclear weapons programs. The Select Committee judges that the PRCís intelligence collection efforts to develop modern thermonuclear warheads are focused primarily on the U.S. Department of Energyís National Laboratories at:
- Los Alamos
- Lawrence Livermore
- Oak Ridge
The FBI has investigated a number of U.S. National Laboratory employees in connection with suspected espionage.
The Select Committee judges that the U.S. national weapons laboratories have been and are targeted by PRC espionage, and almost certainly remain penetrated by the PRC today.
The United States did not become fully aware of the magnitude of the counterintelligence problem at Department of Energy national weapons laboratories until 1995. A series of PRC nuclear weapons test explosions from 1992 to 1996 began a debate in the U.S. Government about whether the PRCís designs for its new generation of nuclear warheads were in fact based on stolen U.S. classified information. The apparent purpose of these PRC tests was to develop smaller, lighter thermonuclear warheads, with an increased yield-to-weight ratio. In 1995, a "walk-in" approached the Central Intelligence Agency outside the PRC and provided an official PRC document classified "Secret" that contained specific design information on the W-88 Trident D-5, and technical information on other thermonuclear warheads. The CIA later determined that the "walk-in" was directed by the PRC intelligence services. Nonetheless, CIA and other Intelligence Community analysts that reviewed the document concluded that it contained U.S. warhead design information.
The National Security Advisor was briefed on PRC thefts of classified U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information in April 1996 (when he was the Deputy National Security Advisor), and again in August 1997. In response to specific interrogatories from the Select Committee, the National Security Advisor informed the Select Committee that the President was not briefed about the issue and the long-term counterintelligence problems at the Department of Energy until early 1998. The Secretary of Energy was briefed about the matter in late 1995 and early 1996. At the writing of this report, the Secretary of Defense has been briefed, but not the Secretaries of State and Commerce.
Congress was not provided adequate briefings on the extent of the PRCís espionage program.
Under Presidential Decision Directive 61 issued in February 1998, the Department of Energy was required to implement improved counterintelligence measures. In December 1998, the Department of Energy began to implement a series of recommended improvements to its counterintelligence program approved by Secretary Richardson in November 1998. Based on testimony by the new head of the Department of Energyís counterintelligence program, the unsuccessful history of previous counterintelligence programs at the Department of Energy, and other information that is not publicly available, the Select Committee judges that the new counterintelligence program at the Department of Energy will not be even minimally effective until at least the year 2000.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and continuing today, Russia is cooperating with the PRC in numerous military and civilian programs, including the PRCís civilian nuclear program. The Select Committee is concerned about the possibility of cooperation between Russia and the PRC on nuclear weapons. The Select Committee judges that Russian nuclear weapons testing technology and experience could significantly assist the PRCís nuclear weapons program, including the PRCís exploitation of stolen U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information. This is especially true if the PRC complies with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which does not permit the physical testing of nuclear weapons.
Back | Forward