Fizzling Chinese Firecrackers
Jude Wanniski
July 8, 1999


Memo To: Rep. Christopher Cox [R-CA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Chinese "Spies"

When you called a few weeks ago to find out what I was saying about your Commission's report on Chinese espionage at our national nuclear laboratories, I told you Jack Kemp at Empower America had commissioned a nuclear physicist with experience in the labs and in our government to assess the findings. Jack did this even before your report was made public, as it became clear that elements of the report were being leaked to the NYTimes in advance of the April visit of the PRC's premier, Zhu Rongji. As I told you when you called, my concern is our relationship with China, which steadily is being poisoned by the anti-China coalition in the U.S. The widespread belief that the PRC has become a new yellow peril, sneaking around Los Alamos and talking Chinese Americans into giving away the most intimate details of our nuclear arsenal is not a fact that helps our two countries move toward a strategic partnership in Asia. Indeed, we practically are inviting Beijing to consider our long-term relationship as an adversarial one. Of course, if the NYT stories were true, and if the Cox Commission findings are accurate, I'd have to concede that perhaps we should not place any trust in China at all. I'm happy to say that the report Kemp has released today at least opens the clear possibility that there has been no leakage of secrets from the national labs. Dr. James G. Prather, who spent three months reading all the public materials, including material posted on the Internet by our government and the labs, plus your redacted report, is firm in his conviction that most of what has been alleged could not have happened and that if any nuclear secrets were obtained by the PRC, they were not obtained in any of the ways alleged in the media accounts or by the security agents of the Energy Department.

I'm posting the Kemp letter that accompanies the report here on my website, where it will run tomorrow and through the weekend. You can link into the Prather report here, where I will maintain it as its own file for an extended period. It runs 15,000 words or so, but I urge you to read it carefully. My sense, Chris, is that you did not have someone with Dr. Prather's technical skills available at an early enough point. A careful reading of your report, in fact, suggests the Panel of Experts that vetted it fairly late in the game came to the same conclusions as Dr. Prather. What is really needed now is another run at the whole problem, I think, which would get us to a point where we understand what the problems are -- and where they don't exist. The worst outcome is if the public is left with the false impression that China somehow threatens us because of secrets they have swiped from our national labs. By taking "corrective action," Dr. Prather suggests we might cause more harm than good by jeopardizing our lab-to-lab program with the Russians, where there is cause for concern that fissionable materials could leak out of their vast weapons system unless we help them manage the stockpile.

Here is the Kemp letter...

July 8, 1999

Dear Friend:

In light of the outcry by Congress and the press to the allegations of Chinese espionage contained in the Cox Committee Reportówhich in my opinion represents a dangerous rush to judgement without sufficient evidenceóI have had an outside nuclear weapons expert, Dr. Gordon Prather, compare the charges in the Cox Committee Report with other unclassified, public information, specifically the net damage assessment conducted by a panel of technical experts, which Chris Cox asked the administration to conduct after he submitted his report to the administration for review. I enclose a copy of the Prather Report for your information.

I feel it was important to make the comparison because the Cox Committee Report is based largely upon security officialsí assessment of what the PRC may have learned about US nuclear weapons while the intelligence communityís Key Findings are based upon the technical expertsí assessment of what the PRC actually did learn.

According to the key findings of the intelligence community, based on its damage-assessment team of experts, there is no convincing evidence that the PRC actually had "penetrated" the US weapons Labs or had "stolen" anything "classified" from them in previous decades. Moreover, if the PRC actually did "steal" any "classified" information and we just canít prove it, there is also no compelling evidence that they have yet incorporated it into their nuclear weapons program. These Key Findings of the intelligence community have been affirmed by both an Independent Review Panel, members of which included Admiral David Jeremiah, Ret. and General Brent Scowcroft, Ret., and by the Presidentís Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, chaired by former Senator Warren Rudman.

Because the intelligence communityís key findings have received very little public and media attention, I believe Dr. Pratherís report will make a real contribution to the publicís understanding of this technically complex and emotionally charged subject. Moreover, Dr. Pratherís report also demonstrates how the White House is using the espionage angle to mask the real security risk, which comes not from foreign spies but rather from the Clinton Administrationís own ill-conceived national security strategy, described by Dr. Prather as follows:

. . . the Clinton Administration for the first time ever [1] told the world that we were never going to develop or test or build another nuclear weapon; [2] told them how many nuclear weapons we had and what they were; and [3] invited the PRC weapons scientists to come over and check us out.

If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Lawrence Hunter of my staff, or you may contact Dr. Prather directly at (703) 525-6957.


Jack Kemp