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Sources: Report finds China stole 'sensitive' nuclear data

May 14, 1999
Web posted at: 9:46 PM EDT (0146 GMT)

From CNN White House Correspondent John King

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A secret congressional report concludes that China, through espionage and other means, gained access to sensitive information about the bulk of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to two government sources familiar with the report.

The so-called Cox Committee report details expansive Chinese nuclear espionage, most of it in the 1980s but some more recently including during the Clinton administration, the officials told CNN Friday on condition of anonymity.

The officials said the report -- much like a recent CIA review -- says it is difficult to determine exactly how much progress China made through espionage and how much from other sources, including its own nuclear program, cooperation with Russia and access to unclassified documents about the U.S. nuclear program.

But the congressional report, citing U.S. intelligence sources, concludes that China:

  • Obtained secrets about at least seven separate U.S. nuclear weapons and warheads, including several nuclear warheads still at the core of the U.S. arsenal, like the W-87 for the MX missile and those used on U.S. Minuteman long-range missiles, and on submarine-based Trident nuclear missiles.

  • Conducted several tests of neutron bomb technology through the late 1980s. The report, like an earlier CIA report, concludes that China obtained some of this technology through espionage.

  • Obtained several secrets critical to development of advanced nuclear weapons, including sensitive missile guidance systems and a so-called rail gun that uses electro-magnetic waves to propel missiles.

U.S. officials trying to understand the scope of the Chinese espionage are frustrated by the fact that China has not deployed any of these advanced weapons. China has just 18 long-range missiles with outdated single warheads, according to U.S. estimates. The United States, on the other hand, has more than 6,000 nuclear missiles.

China has repeatedly rejected allegations of espionage.

Most of the conclusions in the report about espionage are made based on a 1988 Chinese weapons program document obtained by the CIA four years ago, one of the sources said. One of the frustrations noted in the report is that U.S. officials, while convinced China obtained secrets through espionage, have in many cases been unable to pinpoint where or how the security lapse occurred.

Sources say the Cox report concludes the Chinese obtained secrets about the warheads used on the submarine-based Trident and other missiles   

This official said the report, "contains no shocking new disclosures but does provide a stunning view of the extent to which China's nuclear program has been fast-forwarded by an aggressive and successful espionage program, plus aggressive work on their own to benefit from that spying."

White House spokesman David Leavy declined comment because the report has not been released. But he said the White House was already working to improve security at U.S. weapons labs and "we look forward to working with the committee on a bipartisan basis to assess and address their recommendations."

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