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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

PRC Theft of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Design Information

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The PRC is one of the worldís leading proliferators of weapons technologies. Concerns about the impact of the PRCís thefts of U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information, therefore, include the possible proliferation of the worldís most sophisticated nuclear weapons technology to nations hostile to the United States.

Russian Assistance to the PRCís Nuclear Weapons Program

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the PRC and Russian scientists became increasingly cooperative in civilian nuclear technology, and apparently, military technology. The Select Committee is concerned that the growing cooperation between Russia and the PRC is an indication of current or future nuclear weapons cooperation. The Select Committee judges that Russiaís nuclear weapons testing technology and experience could significantly assist the PRC with its nuclear weapons program under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which does not permit physical testing.

While the PRC could share its knowledge of U.S. advanced thermonuclear warhead designs with Russia, Russia may not be interested in deviating from its past developmental path, since existing Russian warhead designs are apparently simple and reliable. The large throw-weight of Russian ballistic missiles has given them less cause for concern about the size and weight of their warheads. Russiaís nuclear stockpile maintenance requirements under a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are thus very different than those of the United States.

The prospect of PRC-Russian cooperation, if that were to include military cooperation, would give rise to concerns in several areas, including nuclear weapons development and nuclear stockpile maintenance, nuclear weapons modeling and simulation, and nuclear weapons testing data.

How the PRC Acquired Thermonuclear Warhead Design Information from the United States: PRC Espionage and Other PRC Techniques

The Select Committee judges that the PRCís intelligence collection efforts to develop modern thermonuclear warheads have focused primarily on the following U.S. National Laboratories: Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, and Sandia. These efforts included espionage, rigorous review of U.S. unclassified technical and academic publications, and extensive interaction with U.S. scientists and Department of Energy laboratories.

Espionage played a central part in the PRCís acquisition of classified U.S. thermonuclear warhead design secrets. In several cases, the PRC identified lab employees, invited them to the PRC, and approached them for help, sometimes playing upon ethnic ties to recruit individuals.

The PRC also rigorously mined unclassified technical information and academic publications, including information from the National Technical Information Center and other sources. PRC scientists have even requested reports via e-mail from scientists at the U.S. national weapons laboratories. Peter Lee, who had been a scientist at both Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories and was convicted in 1997 of passing classified information to the PRC, gave the PRC unclassified technical reports upon request. The PRC also learned about conventional explosives for nuclear weapon detonation from reviewing unclassified technical reports published by Department of Energy national weapons laboratories.

PRC scientists have used their extensive laboratory-to-laboratory interactions with the United States to gain information from U.S. scientists on common problems, solutions to nuclear weapons physics, and solutions to engineering problems. The PRC uses elicitation in these meetings, where it shows familiarity with U.S. information in an effort to "prime the pump" in order to try to glean information about U.S. designs. U.S. scientists have passed information to the PRC in this way that is of benefit to the PRCís nuclear weapons program.

Specific examples of the loss of classified U.S. information in this manner are detailed in the Select Committeeís classified Final Report. The Clinton administration has determined that these examples cannot be publicly discussed.

The PRCís espionage operations, which use traditional intelligence gathering organizations as well as other entities, are aggressively focused on U.S. weapons technology.

The PRCís Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), which is under the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND), is the entity in charge of the PRCís nuclear weapons program. It is responsible for the research and development, testing, and production of all of the PRCís nuclear weapons. The figure below shows the organization of the PRCís nuclear infrastructure.5

The China Academy of Engineering Physics has pursued a very close relationship with U.S. national weapons laboratories, sending scientists as well as senior management to Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. Members of the China Academy of Engineering Physics senior management have made at least two trips during the mid-to-late 1990s to U.S. national weapons laboratories to acquire information and collect intelligence. These visits provide the opportunity for the PRC to collect intelligence. The presence of such PRC nationals at the U.S. national weapons laboratories facilitates the PRCís targeting of U.S. weapons scientists for the purpose of obtaining nuclear weapons information.

U.S. and PRC lab-to-lab exchanges were ended in the late 1980s, but were resumed in 1993. Scientific exchanges continue in many areas including high-energy physics.6 Discussions at the U.S. national weapons laboratories in connection with the foreign visitors program are supposed to be strictly limited to technical arms control and material accounting issues. Nonetheless, these visits and scientific conferences provide opportunities for the PRC to interact with U.S. scientists outside of official meetings, and facilitate the PRCís targeting of U.S. weapons scientists.

The U.S. national weapons laboratories argue that there are reciprocal gains from the exchanges. The Department of Energy describes some of the insights gained from these exchanges as unique. On the other hand, PRC scientists have misled the U.S. about their objectives and technological developments. Despite considerable debate in Congress and the Executive branch, including several critical Government Accounting Office reports, the U.S. Government has never made a definitive assessment of the risks versus the benefits of scientific exchanges and foreign visitor programs involving the U.S. national weapons laboratories.7

How the U.S. Government Learned of the PRCís Theft of Our Most Advanced Thermonuclear Warhead Design Information

The U.S. Government did not become fully aware of the magnitude of the counterintelligence problems at the Department of Energy laboratories until 1995. The first indication of successful PRC espionage against the laboratories arose in the late 1970s. During the last several years, more information has become available concerning thefts of U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information, and how the PRC may be exploiting it. A series of PRC nuclear tests conducted from 1992 to 1996 that furthered the PRCís development of advanced warheads led to suspicions in the U.S. intelligence community that the PRC had stolen advanced U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information.

The "Walk-In"

In 1995, a "walk-in" approached the Central Intelligence Agency outside of the PRC and provided an official PRC document classified "Secret" that contained design information on the W-88 Trident D-5 warhead, the most modern in the U.S. arsenal, as well as technical information concerning other thermonuclear warheads.

The CIA later determined that the "walk-in" was directed by the PRC intelligence services. Nonetheless, the CIA and other Intelligence Community analysts that reviewed the document concluded that it contained U.S. thermonuclear warhead design information.

The "walk-in" document recognized that the U.S. nuclear warheads represented the state-of-the-art against which PRC thermonuclear warheads should be measured.

Espionage Definition of a "Walk-In"

A "walk-in" is an individual who voluntarily offers to conduct espionage. The Encyclopedia of Espionage defines a "walk-in" as "an unheralded defector or a dangle, a ëwalk-iní is a potential agent or a mole who literally walks into an embassy or intelligence agency without prior contact or recruitment." See the Spy Book, The Encyclopedia of Espionage, by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen (RH Reference & Information Publishing, Random House).

The individual who approached the CIA in 1995 is suspected of being a "directed walk-in": a "walk-in" purposefully directed by the PRC to provide this information to the United States. There is speculation as to the PRCís motives for advertising to the United States the state of its nuclear weapons development.

Over the following months, an assessment of the information in the document was conducted by a multidisciplinary group from the U.S. Government, including the Department of Energy and scientists from the U.S. national weapons laboratories. The Department of Energy and FBI investigations focused on the loss of the U.S. W-88 Trident D-5 design information, but they did not focus on the loss of technical information about the other five U.S. thermonuclear warheads. A Department of Energy investigation of the loss of technical information about the other five U.S. thermonuclear warheads had not begun as of January 3, 1999, after the Select Committee had completed its investigation. Also, the FBI had not yet initiated an investigation as of January 3, 1999.

The PRCís Future Thermonuclear Warhead Requirements: The PRCís Need for Nuclear Test Data and High Performance Computers

Since signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, the PRC has faced new challenges in maintaining its modern thermonuclear warheads without physical testing. Indeed, even after signing the CTBT, the PRC may be testing sub-critical or low yield nuclear explosive devices underground at its Lop Nur test site.

The PRC likely does not need additional physical tests for its older thermonuclear warhead designs. But maintenance of the nuclear weapons stockpile for these weapons does require testing. The ban on physical testing to which the PRC agreed in 1996 has therefore increased the PRCís interest in high performance computing and access to sophisticated computer codes to simulate the explosion of nuclear weapons.8

The Select Committee judges that the PRC has likely developed only a very modest complement of codes from inputting its own testing data into high performance computers. The PRC would, therefore, be especially interested in acquiring U.S. thermonuclear weapons codes for any new weapons based on elements of stolen U.S. design information.

The Department of Energy reports that the PRC has in fact acquired some U.S. computer codes, including: the MCNPT code; the DOT3.5 code; and the NJOYC code.9 MCNPT is a theoretical code that is useful in determining survivability of systems to electronic penetration and dose penetration in humans. DOT3.5 is a two-dimensional empirical code that performs the same kinds of calculations as MCNPT, except uses numerical integration. NJOYC acts as a numerical translator between DOT3.5 and MCNPT.

Given the limited number of nuclear tests that the PRC has conducted, the PRC likely needs additional empirical information about advanced thermonuclear weapon performance that it could obtain by stealing the U.S. "legacy" computer codes, such as those that were used by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to design the W-88 Trident D-5 warhead. The PRC may also need information about dynamic three-dimensional data on warhead packaging, primary and secondary coupling, and the chemical interactions of materials inside the warhead over time.

The Select Committee is concerned that no procedures are in place that would either prevent or detect the movement of classified information, including classified nuclear-weapons design information or computer codes, to unclassified sections of the computer systems at U.S. national weapons laboratories. The access granted to individuals from foreign countries, including students, to these unclassified areas of the U.S. national weapons laboratoriesí computer systems could make it possible for others acting as agents of foreign countries to access such information, making detection of the persons responsible for the theft even more difficult.

The Select Committee believes that the PRC will continue to target its collection efforts not only on Los Alamos National Laboratory, but also on the other U.S. National Laboratories involved with the U.S. nuclear stockpile maintenance program.

The PRC may also seek to improve its hydrostatic testing capabilities by learning more about the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrotest (DARHT) facility at Los Alamos.

Back  |  Forward


pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

PRC Acquisition of U.S. Technology
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

PRC Theft of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Design Information
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

High Performance Computers
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

PRC Missile and Space Forces
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Hughes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Loral
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Launch Site Security in the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6

Commercial Space Insurance
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

U.S. Export Policy Toward the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Manufacturing Processes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

pages 1 | 2 | 3

pages introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F

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