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GOP senator accuses Clinton administration of 'cover-up' in spy case


March 17, 1999
Web posted at: 1:21 a.m. EST (0621 GMT)

In this story:

Richardson: Extent of damage not yet known

Investigators say leaks started last decade


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill into possible Chinese government-backed espionage at U.S. nuclear laboratories, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee accused the Clinton administration of a direct "cover-up" that compromised national security.

"I'm saying they intentionally hid it," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, told CNN's "Crossfire." "This is a cover-up. This is very, very serious. At the same time all this was happening, this president signed a waiver to allow guidance technology to be used by the Chinese on missiles -- on missiles that are actually targeting the United States."

He added: "Could this president have been tried on impeachment for the wrong crime?"

The comments were some of the most critical of the president and his administration since news of the Los Alamos National Laboratory leak broke last week.

Richardson: Extent of damage not yet known

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, also appearing on "Crossfire," defended the administration, saying it acted promptly to notify "all of the appropriate committees of Congress." He said officials were still assessing damages from the leak and that "there's plenty of blame to spread around."

"The issue is how much damage happened. We don't know that yet. We will know that. (There was) serious damage but the extent of it, we don't know yet," Richardson said.

He said the Energy Department has taken measures so that "this shouldn't happen again," including doubling its counterintelligence budget, tightening security controls and running background checks on scientists from sensitive countries.

Earlier in the day, Richardson reiterated those comments before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senate Republicans had called for the hearings to probe the severity of the leak, accusing the Clinton administration of keeping mum on the apparent nuclear security breach.

"I believe that at our weapons labs right now, we have strong security procedures. We want to work with this committee on how we can improve that," Richardson said.

Investigators say leaks started last decade

Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, said Richardson had taken "timely and prudent" action since he became head of the Energy Department in September.

"But this senator cannot say that about this administration, and how they have dealt with this issue over a period of time."

The CIA and Justice Department are investigating the leaks, and are looking closely at Chinese officials who may have tried to gain secrets from sensitive U.S. installations, particularly Beijing operatives who were in contact with Los Alamos computer scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Lee, who has not been charged with any crime, was fired last week for "security violations," his former boss John Browne told CNN. Investigators believe the leaks began in the mid-1980s and were first discovered in 1995.

CIA appoints admiral to review alleged nuclear weapon spying
March 15, 1999
China: U.S. spying allegations are 'fallacy'
March 15, 1999
Clinton denies dragging feet on China spy probe
March 12, 1999
Clinton's security adviser takes heat for China nuclear scandal
March 10, 1999
CIA measures damage following leaked nuclear secrets
March 9, 1999
China spy suspect fired by Energy Department
March 8, 1999

Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C.
U.S. Embassy in China
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