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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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U.S. Government Investigations of Nuclear Weapons Design Information Losses

Investigation of Theft of Design Information for the Neutron Bomb

The Select Committee received information about the U.S. Governmentís investigation of the PRCís theft of classified U.S. design information for the W-70 thermonuclear warhead. The W-70, which is an enhanced radiation nuclear warhead (or "neutron bomb"), also has elements that can be used for a strategic thermonuclear warhead. In 1996 the U.S. Intelligence Community reported that the PRC had successfully stolen classified U.S. technology from a U.S. Nuclear Weapons Laboratory about the neutron bomb.

This was not the first time the PRC had stolen classified U.S. information about the neutron bomb. In the late 1970s, the PRC stole design information on the U.S. W-70 warhead from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The U.S. Government first learned of this theft several months after it took place. The PRC subsequently tested a neutron bomb in 1988.

The FBI developed a suspect in the earlier theft. The suspect worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and had access to classified information including designs for a number of U.S. thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile at that time.

In addition to design information about the W-70, this suspect may have provided to the PRC additional classified information about other U.S. weapons that could have significantly accelerated the PRCís nuclear weapons program.

The Clinton administration has determined that further information about these thefts cannot be publicly disclosed.

Investigation of Thefts of Information Related to the Detection of Submarines and of Laser Testing of Miniature Nuclear Weapons Explosions

Peter Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Taiwan. Lee worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1984 to 1991, and for TRW Inc., a contractor to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, from 1973 to 1984 and again from 1991to 1997.10

Lee has admitted to the FBI that, in 1997, he passed to PRC weapons scientists classified research into the detection of enemy submarines under water. This research, if successfully completed, could enable the PLA to threaten previously invulnerable U.S. nuclear submarines.

Lee made the admissions in 1997 during six adversarial interviews with the FBI. According to Lee, the illegal transfer of this sensitive research occurred while he was employed by TRW, Inc., a contractor for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The classified U.S.information was developed by Lawrence Livermore as part of a joint United States-United Kingdom Radar Ocean Imaging project for anti-submarine warfare applications.

Specifically, on or about May 11, 1997, Lee gave a lecture in Beijing at the PRC Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics (IAPCM). Among the attendees were nuclear weapons scientists from the IAPCM and the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP).

Lee described for the PRC weapons scientists the physics of microwave scattering from ocean waves. Lee specifically stated that the purpose of the research was anti-submarine warfare.

At one point in his presentation, Lee displayed an image of a surface ship wake, which he had brought with him from the United States. He also drew a graph and explained the underlying physics of his work and its applications. He told the PRC scientists where to filter data within the graph to enhance the ability to locate the ocean wake of a vessel.

Approximately two hours after his talk was over, Lee erased the graph and tore the ship wake image "to shreds" upon exiting the PRC institute.11

In 1997, the decision was made to not prosecute Lee for passing this classified information on submarine detection to the PRC. Because of the sensitivity of this area of research, the Defense Department requested that this information not be used in a prosecution.

Throughout much of the l990s, the FBI conducted a multi-year investigation of Peter Lee, employing a variety of techniques, but without success in collecting incriminating evidence. Finally, in 1997, Lee was charged with willfully providing to the PRC classified information on techniques for creating miniature nuclear fusion explosions.

Specifically, Lee explained to PRC weapons scientists how deuterium and tritium can be loaded into a spherical capsule called a target and surrounded by a hohlraum, and then heated by means of laser bombardment. The heat causes the compression of these elements, creating a nuclear fusion micro-explosion. This so-called "inertial confinement" technique permits nuclear weapons scientists to study nuclear explosions in miniature--something of especial usefulness to the PRC, which has agreed to the ban on full-scale nuclear tests in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Lee's admission that he provided the PRC with this classified information about nuclear testing using miniaturized fusion explosions came in the course of the same 1997 adversarial FBI interviews that yielded his admission of passing submarine detection research to the PRC. Lee's delivery of the miniature nuclear testing information to the PRC occurred in 1985, while he was employed as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Lee said that during a lecture in the PRC he answered questions and drew diagrams about hohlraum construction. In addition, Lee is believed to have provided the PRC with information about inertial confinement lasers that are used to replicate the coupling between the primary and secondary in a thermonuclear weapon.

Lee was formally charged with one count of "gathering, transmitting or losing defense information," in violation of Section 793 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, and one count of providing false statements to a U.S. government agency, in violation of Section 1001, Title 18. On December 8, 1997, Lee pled guilty to willfully passing classified U.S. defense information to PRC scientists during his 1985 visit to the PRC. Lee also pled guilty to falsifying reports of contact with PRC nationals in 1997.

Lee was sentenced to 12 months in a halfway house, a $20,000 fine and 3,000 hours of community service.12

The Select Committee judges that, between 1985 and 1997, Lee may have provided the PRC with more classified thermonuclear weapons-related information than he has admitted.

The PRC apparently co-opted Lee by appealing to his ego, his ethnicity, and his sense of self-importance as a scientist.

Investigation of Theft of Design Information For the W-88 Trident D-5 Thermonuclear Warhead

The Select Committee received information about the U.S. Governmentís ongoing investigation of the loss of information about the W-88 Trident D-5 thermonuclear warhead design.

During the PRCís 1992 to 1996 series of advanced nuclear weapons tests, a debate began in the U.S. Government about whether the PRC had acquired classified U.S. thermonuclear weapons design information. The Department of Energy began to investigate. In 1995, following the CIAís receipt of evidence (provided by the PRC-directed "walk-in") that the PRC had acquired technical information on a number of U.S. thermonuclear warheads, including not only the W-88 Trident D-5 but five other warheads as well, the Department of Energy's investigation intensified. That investigation, however, focused on the W-88 and not the other weapons.

Early in its investigation, the Department of Energy cross-referenced personnel who had worked on the design of the W-88 with those who had traveled to the PRC or interacted with PRC scientists. One individual who had hosted PRC visitors in the past emerged from this inquiry as a suspect by the spring of 1995.

Even after being identified as a suspect, the individual, who still had a security clearance, continued to work in one of the most sensitive divisions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Division X, which handles thermonuclear weapons designs and computer codes. In this position, the suspect requested and received permission to hire a PRC graduate student who was studying in the U.S. for the summer.

In December 1998, the suspect traveled to Taiwan. Following his return from Taiwan in December 1998, he was removed from Division X.

The FBI initiated a full investigation in the middle of 1996, which remains ongoing. At the date of this report, the suspect continues to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and continues to have access to classified information.

The FBI investigation of this suspectís possible involvement in the theft of classified design information on the W-88 warhead and other matters is ongoing.

The Clinton administration has determined that further information on this matter cannot be disclosed publicly.

Investigation of Additional Incidents

The Select Committee reviewed one case that offers a troublesome example of the manner in which scientific exchanges in the PRC can be exploited for espionage purposes. The incident involved the inadvertent, bordering on negligent, disclosure of classified technical information by a U.S. scientist lecturing in the PRC.

The U.S. scientist, who was representing a U.S. National Laboratory during a lab-to-lab exchange with a PRC laboratory, was pressured by PRC counterparts to provide a solution to a nuclear weapons-related problem. Rather than decline, the scientist, who was aware of the clear distinction between the classified and unclassified technical information that was under discussion, provided an analogy. The scientist immediately saw that the PRC scientists had grasped the hint that was provided and realized that too much had been said.

The PRC employs various approaches to co-opt U.S. scientists to obtain classified information. These approaches include: appealing to common ethnic heritage; arranging visits to ancestral homes and relatives; paying for trips and travel in the PRC; flattering the guestís knowledge and intelligence; holding elaborate banquets to honor guests; and doggedly peppering U.S. scientists with technical questions by experts, sometimes after a banquet at which substantial amounts of alcohol have been consumed.

On average, the FBI has received about five security-related referrals each month from the Department of Energy. Not all of these concern the PRC. These referrals usually include possible security violations and the inadvertent disclosure of classified information.

The FBI normally conducts investigations of foreign individuals working at the National Laboratories.

The Clinton administration has determined that additional information in this section cannot be publicly disclosed.

The Department of Energyís Counterintelligence Program at the U.S. National Weapons Laboratories

With additional funds provided by Congress in 1998, the Department of Energy is attempting to reinvent its counterintelligence programs at the U.S. national weapons laboratories to prevent continued loss of information to the PRCís intelligence collection activities.

Funding for the Department of Energyís counterintelligence program, including seven employees at the Department of Energyís headquarters, was $7.6 million in Fiscal Year 1998. For Fiscal Year 1999, Congress has increased that amount to $15.6 million.

With the support of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the President issued Presidential Decision Directive 61 (PDD-61) in February 1998. PDD-61 requires that a senior FBI counterintelligence agent be placed in charge of the Department of Energyís program, which has been done.

PDD-61 also instructed that a counterintelligence report with recommendations be presented to the Secretary of Energy. The report was submitted to the Secretary on July 1, 1998, with 33 specific recommendations. The Secretary had 30 days to respond to the National Security Council. However, due to the transition from Secretary Pena to Secretary Richardson, the response was delayed. In late November 1998, the Secretary of Energy approved all substantive recommendations. In December 1998, the Directors of the U.S. National Laboratories agreed to the counterintelligence plan during a meeting with the Secretary of Energy. The Department of Energy is now implementing the plan.

The Secretaryís action plan instructs the Directors of the U.S. National Laboratories to implement the recommendations. It directs the Department of Energyís Office of Counterintelligence to fund counterintelligence positions at individual laboratories so that they work directly for the Department of Energy, not the contractors that administer the laboratories.

The Department of Energy will create an audit trail to track unclassified computer use and protect classified computer networks. The action plan also directs the creation of counterintelligence training programs and a counterintelligence analysis program.

The Department of Energy will also implement stricter requirements for reporting all interactions with foreign individuals from sensitive countries, including correspondence by e-mail. Laboratory Directors will be responsible for scrutinizing foreign visitors, in coordination with Department of Energyís Counterintelligence Office.

The Department of Energy will require counterintelligence polygraphs of those who work in special access programs (SAP) and sensitive areas with knowledge of nuclear weapons design, or actually have hands-on access to nuclear weapons (about 10 percent of the total cleared population within the Department of Energy). Such persons will also undergo financial reviews and more rigorous background investigations conducted through local field offices of the FBI.

The FBI reportedly has sent several agents to the Department of Energy in the last 10 years to try to improve the counterintelligence program, but has repeatedly been unsuccessful. A significant problem has been the lack of counterintelligence professionals, and a bureaucracy that "buried" them and left them without access to senior management or the Secretary of Energy. The Department of Energyís new Counterintelligence Director now has direct access to the Secretary.

After traveling to the laboratories and interviewing counterintelligence officials, the Department of Energyís new Counterintelligence Director reported in November 1998:

The counterintelligence program at DOE [the Department of Energy] does not even meet minimal standards ... there is not a counterintelligence [program], nor has there been one at DOE [the Department of Energy] for many, many years.

The Department of Energyís counterintelligence program requires additional training, funding, and accountability, according to this counterintelligence official.

At present, the Department of Energyís background investigations are conducted by an Office of Personnel Management contractor. The new Directorís opinion is that the present background investigations are "totally inadequate" and "do [not] do us any good whatsoever."

Another problem area is that the Department of Energyís counterintelligence process presently does not have any mechanism for identifying or reviewing the thousands of foreign visitors and workers at the U.S. national weapons laboratories. On one occasion reviewed by the Select Committee, for example, scientists from a U.S. National Laboratory met foreign counterparts in a Holiday Inn in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in order to circumvent their laboratoryís security procedures.

One responsibility of the Department of Energyís new counterintelligence program will be to find out who visits the laboratories, including those from sensitive countries, what they work on while they visit, and whether their access is restricted to protect classified information. Mechanisms have been recommended to identify visitors and fully vet them. The Department of Energy will attempt to improve the database used for background checks.

Classified information has been placed on unclassified networks, with no system for either detection or reliable prevention. There are no intrusion detection devices to determine whether hackers have attacked the Department of Energyís computer network. According to damage assessments reviewed by the Select Committee, however, attacks on the computers at the U.S. national weapons laboratories are a serious problem. E-mail is also a threat: the U.S. national weapons laboratories cannot track who is communicating with whom. For example, over 250,000 unmonitored e-mails are sent out of the Sandia National Laboratory alone each week.

In the year 2000, the Department of Energy will concentrate on increasing its analytical and investigative capabilities. Until at least the year 2000, the Department of Energyís counterintelligence program will not be adequate.

The five U.S. National Laboratories (Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Sandia, and Pacific Northwest) are the primary focus of the counterintelligence plan. The Department of Energy is hiring senior counterintelligence experts who will report directly to the Directors of these laboratories.

Many of the specific recommendations in the Presidential Decision Directive are not new, and similar changes have been attempted unsuccessfully before.

Notification of the President and Senior U.S. Officials

In response to interrogatories from the Select Committee, the National Security Advisor testified in writing that the President did not learn about the issue of successful PRC espionage at the U.S. national weapons laboratories and long-term counterintelligence problems at the Department of Energy until early 1998.14

The Department of Energy briefed the Secretary of Energy about the matter in late 1995 and early 1996.

The Department of Energy first briefed the Deputy National Security Advisor in April 1996.

The Department of Energy briefed the Director of Central Intelligence, the Director of the FBI, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General during this period.

The Department of Energy has not briefed the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Commerce. The Congress was not fully briefed until late 1998, as a result of the efforts of the Select Committee.

Back  |  Footnotes  |  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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