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Report: China stole U.S. nuke secrets to 'fulfill international agenda'

Read the full Cox Report

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White House defends Reno, Berger in nuclear secrets case

Reno has survived Washington so far, but China probe may be different

May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 8:13 p.m. EDT (0013 GMT)

In this story:

Clinton learned of allegations in '98

Sources: 70 percent to be made public

Report contains recommendations

Beijing disputes report

White House backs Reno, Berger


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China has been stealing America's most sensitive nuclear secrets "for at least the past several decades" and despite high-level knowledge of the thefts, security at U.S. nuclear labs still "does not meet even minimal standards," according to a congressional report released Tuesday.

Beijing could begin testing the first of its advanced nuclear weapons based on the stolen information as early as this year and it could be deployed as soon as 2002, according to the Cox report.

"The stolen U.S. nuclear secrets give (China) design information on thermonuclear weapons on a par with our own," the report says.

"With the stolen U.S. technology, (China) has leaped, in a handful of years, from 1950s-era strategic nuclear capabilities to the more modern thermonuclear weapons designs."

So damaging is the stolen information, the report concludes, it "could have a significant effect on the regional balance of power, particularly with respect to Taiwan."

The report says China seeks to use the weapons to "fulfill its international agenda," including incorporating Taiwan into the mainland and "becoming the primary power in Asia."

"These (Chinese) goals conflict with current U.S. interests in Asia and the Pacific, and the possibility of a U.S.-(China) confrontation cannot be dismissed," the report states.

China obtained the information through a complex information gathering matrix that included direct spying and the use of "front companies" in the United States as well as "a network of individuals and organizations that engage in a vast array of contacts with scientists, business people and academics," the report says.

Clinton learned of allegations in '98

Among the material stolen cited by the report:

  • Classified information on seven U.S. thermonuclear warheads, including every currently deployed thermonuclear warhead in the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal. That includes the W-88, a miniaturized warhead that is the most sophisticated weapon the United States has ever built.

  • Classified design information for an enhanced neutron bomb that has never been deployed by any country, including the United States.

  • U.S. developmental technology that if successfully completed could be used to attack U.S. satellites and submarines.

    "(Chinese) penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades and almost certainly continues today," the report says.

    Beijing primarily focused on Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge and Sandia national laboratories.

    The Clinton administration first learned of the extent of the alleged espionage in 1995 when a Chinese citizen gave the CIA a classified document from Beijing that demonstrated China had obtained information on the W-88 and half a dozen other U.S. nuclear warheads.

    AIFF or WAV
    (498 K/30 sec. audio)
    Cox explains the possible implications of the loss of U.S. nuclear information

    The report claims that President Clinton was made aware of the allegations in early 1998.

    Although the administration has taken steps to boost security at nuclear labs, the report says, security will "not be satisfactory until at least sometime in the year 2000."

    "Despite repeated (Chinese) thefts of the most sophisticated U.S. nuclear weapons technology, security at our national nuclear weapons laboratories does not meet even minimal standards," it says.

    Sources: 70 percent made public

    The so-called Cox report was released following months of review as to how much should be declassified. About 70 percent has been made public, sources say.

    Details of the report have been trickling out for weeks amid a growing criticism of the current administration's response to fix the security lapse after it was exposed in 1995.

    "Some of the most significant thefts have occurred during the last four years," Rep.Christopher Cox, R-California, the House Select Committee chairman in charge of the report, told CNN.

    "It means that we're going to be preparing ourselves to defend against American technology used against us," he added. "It's not good news ... The world is a lot less safer today as a consequence of these thefts."

    The allegations, coupled with the recent NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, have put an added strain on Sino-American relations, which have long been characterized as lacking in trust.

    Read the full Cox Report

    Report contains recommendations

    The nearly 700-page report culminates a year-long investigation into the threat of China to the security of the United States.

    The report was written at the end of 1998 and issued in classified form to the administration and congress in January of this year. The past four and a half months have been spent negotiating with the Clinton administration as to what could be made declassified and essentually public.

    The report is written in 13 chapters. A 25-page overview spells out the findings in broad terms. Three chapters focus on Chinese efforts at obtaining U.S. technology, nuclear weapons, and high performance computer technology.

    Five chapters deal with Chinese missiles, satellite launches in China with U.S. cargo aboard, and lapses in launch site security in China that may have led to espionage.

    There are two chapters dealing with U.S. export policy toward China and manufacturing processes in China aided by U.S. technology.

    There are 38 recommendations to the president and Congress on way to help security in the future and curb espionage by the Chinese.

    There is a final section listing who worked on the report and a glossary of terms and language used in the bulk of the report.

    Beijing disputes report

    Beijing has vehemently denied the espionage charges.

    Liu Xiaoming, the Minister of the People's Republic of China to the United States, said Beijing officials "are not worried greatly about" the report because they do not believe it will contain hard evidence of any Chinese spying.

    He said China believes the Cox report is largely the result of American politics and of those in Congress who, he said, have an anti-Chinese agenda. Liu added that he has yet to see the report.

    Cox said the evidence "is unmistakable" -- that Beijing conducted a highly sophisticated espionage scheme that is a most serious breach of U.S. national security.

    "In many cases, a little piece of information might seem innocuous but if you collect enough of them through the so-called matrix technique ... you can learn a great deal about military matters in the United States," Cox said.

    A number of Republicans have accused the Clinton administration of dropping the ball, prompting calls for the resignation of Attorney General Janet Reno and renewed criticism of FBI Director Louis Freeh and National Security Adviser Samuel Berger.

    White House backs Reno, Berger

    The White House said Monday the president remains fully supportive of Reno and Berger.

    "I'm right here and going strong," Reno said in response to the calls for her resignation.

    "I think you're beginning to see some elements of partisan fingerpointing," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, referring to Republican calls for Reno's resignation.

    Cox said the report is firmly a bipartisan one.

    "The Select Committee stayed away from surmise, we stayed away from opinion, and we always returned to the facts, that's why we have a unanimous and bipartisan report without a single sentence of minority or dissenting views," he said.

    Report: Stolen data gives China advanced nuclear know-how
    May 24, 1999
    Shelby: Reno should resign over China espionage probe
    May 23, 1999
    Report: China benefited from stolen nuclear secrets
    May 20, 1999
    Congressman calls alleged Chinese spying 'grave'
    May 16, 1999
    Sources: Report finds China stole 'sensitive' nuclear data
    May 14, 1999
    Reno defends computer-search caution in Los Alamos case
    May 13, 1999
    Senate spotlights nuclear security lapses
    May 12, 1999
    U.S. State Department issues travel warning for China
    May 10, 1999

    Chinese Embassy to the U.S.
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    Consulate General of the People's Republic of China
    China Today
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      • Attorney General Janet Reno
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      • National Security Council
      • Biography of Samuel Berger
    Los Alamos National Laboratory
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