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Loss of nuclear secrets called 'one of worst failures' in U.S. history

Though Cox's report says China has yet to deploy any weaponry incorporating the stolen technology, it warns the first of a new Chinese mobile missile system could be deployed as soon as 2002
Read the full Cox Report

Highlights of the report

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The effects of the Cox report are being felt on both sides of the isle in Congress. CNN's Bob Franken explains.
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Cox report recommendation highlights

Clinton to continue engagement of China despite espionage report

Bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill over China spying report

China says spying report 'groundless'

U.S. and China share long history of distrust


House report: China espionage probably still ongoing

May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 10:19 p.m. EDT (0219 GMT)

In this story:

No new weapons deployed

Steps already taken

China reaction

Lax security

Criticism of Clinton administration

U.S. firms provided technical know-how


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The ranking Democrat on the House committee that wrote a scathing report on government failures to prevent China's theft of U.S. nuclear weapons technology described the situation on Tuesday as "one of the worst (counterintelligence) failures in the nation's history."

But he did not advocate retaliation.

"I would hate to see this report create a circumstance in which we go to a Cold War setting with China. I think that would be a mistake," said Rep. Norm Dicks, (D-Washington).

China's two-decade effort to steal U.S. weapons technology, including thefts during the Clinton administration, probably "continues to this day" but has not resulted in Beijing's deployment of new weapons, according to the bipartisan congressional report released Tuesday by the Select Committee on U.S. National Security.

The special House committee said U.S. know-how accumulated by China -- legally and illegally -- has allowed the communist government to leap from a 1950s-style nuclear weapons program to sophisticated designs "on par with our own."

As U.S. intelligence picked up knowledge of China's activities, top government officials were "not informed in a timely fashion," said committee Chairman Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California).

He also said two U.S. defense firms ignored legal restrictions, thus allowing China to obtain information critical to its ballistic missile program.

No new weapons deployed

"(China) has mounted a widespread effort to obtain U.S. military technology by any means, legal or illegal," Cox said at a news conference Tuesday after copies of the unclassified 700-page report were made public.

He said the conclusions reached in the report were supported by additional volumes of classified factual material.

But, Dicks noted, "As of today, (China) has not deployed a single, new nuclear weapon based on information they have obtained."

Steps already taken

The White House said Tuesday it did not agree with all of the panel's conclusions, but called recommendations for improved security "constructive" and said it was in the process of implementing them.

Select House Committee
Members of the committee report China has stolen secret data from the United States for decades  

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said his department has already completed 85 percent of the key reforms in the Cox report.

"We've instituted more extensive security reviews, including polygraph tests; expanded financial disclosure programs; and forensic financial investigations for employees working in sensitive programs," Richardson said.

He also said funding for counterintelligence has increased, from $2.6 million in 1996 to $39.2 million for 2000.

And Richardson said he shut down computers at nuclear development laboratories for two weeks to accelerate identifying and correcting weaknesses in cybersecurity, including:

  • Strengthening firewalls
  • Developing additional intrusion detection devices
  • Developing tamper-proof devices to prevent the transfer from classified to unclassified systems

    China reaction

    China has all along denied conducting any espionage against the United States.

    In an interview with CNN, Liu Xiaoming, deputy chief of the Chinese mission in Washington, said the report was "full of groundless allegations."

    "I think this report is really a reflection of the thinking of those people who still cling to the Cold War mentality. They are not comfortable with a world without an enemy after the Soviet Union is no more, and they are looking for a new enemy," he said.

    Lax security

    The Clinton administration says it first learned of the extent of the alleged espionage in 1995 when a Chinese citizen -- who, it was later learned, worked for Chinese intelligence -- gave the CIA a classified document from Beijing that demonstrated China had obtained information on U.S. nuclear technology

    Keeping secrets:

    The report by a special House committee was written at the end of 1998 and issued in classified form to the Clinton administration and Congress in January of this year. Since then, the panel and the White House have been negotiating on what could be released to the public. About a third of the report remains classified.

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

    But National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said an earlier presidential briefing took place in 1997 so the Cox report was amended to reflect that.

    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.

    Criticism of Clinton administration

    The bipartisan committee began investigating technology transfers to China nearly a year ago. Last fall it refocused much of its attention to espionage at U.S. weapons labs.

    The committee of five Republicans and four Democrats found that the primary focus of Chinese espionage was the weapons research labs of Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore in California.

    While the report criticizes the Clinton administration and how slowly it reacted when word of the espionage surfaced, it also credits Richardson with making long-needed improvements to the nation's vulnerable nuclear labs, which are run by his department.

    Richardson said Tuesday that "individuals will be held accountable" for the lapses at Los Alamos and he said a report naming names should be released by next week.

    He also said the Energy Department was looking at 11 candidates for a "security czar."

    Richardson said he wants a three- or four-star general with a history of active duty and strong management and security background.

    U.S. firms provided technical know-how

    The Cox report described China's widespread use of the U.S. business community in its pursuit of both secrets and unclassified technology that might be of use militarily.

    A year ago, accusations surfaced that campaign contributions might have influenced the Clinton administration to give favorable treatment to U.S. companies granted permission from Washington to launch satellites on Chinese rockets.

    Following three launch failures, the report says, U.S. satellite manufacturers Loral Corp. and Hughes Electronics gave China unauthorized information to improve the reliability of missiles used to launch communications satellites.

    The same know-how could be used to make China's nuclear missiles more reliable, the report says.

    Correspondents Bob Franken and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.

    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

    Hughes Electronics
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    Chinese Embassy to the U.S.
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    China Today
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      • Attorney General Janet Reno
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      • National Security Council
      • Biography of Samuel Berger
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