Prather Report Has No Friends
Jude Wanniski
July 12, 1999


Memo To: Rep. Curt Weldon [R-PA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Chinese Spies

It's become clear in the last several months that you are among those rare members of Congress who is not politically fearful of taking on sensitive issues of national security and letting the chips fall where they may. If the historians are on their toes when it comes time to write about the end of the dreadful and unnecessary U.S./NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, they will identify your leadership in taking a bipartisan team to Moscow to bring Russian diplomacy into play. On the issue of purported Chinese spying at our national nuclear laboratories, you also have been a standout, taking the House floor several times to ask the right questions about just what is going on here. This is why I bring to your attention today Robert Novak's Chicago Sun-Time column, although you may have already seen it this morning in the Washington Post. Novak writes about the "Prather Report" commissioned by Jack Kemp to assess the report of the Cox Commission -- which flatly asserted the Chinese government had penetrated our nuclear labs with spies and now had possession of our most vital secrets.

As Novak makes clear, the Prather Report already has been consigned to an Orwellian black memory hole by our Political Establishment, which had gone to great trouble to demonize the People's Republic of China at the expense of our nuclear labs. Indeed, the report was to have been published by Empower America, where Kemp is co-director, but because a fellow co-director, Bill Bennett, is aligned with the China-bashers at the Weekly Standard, he refused to allow its publication under Empower America's imprimatur when he saw its implications. Kemp had to pay for the report out of his own pocket and release it under his own aegis. It is not in the political interest of either the Republican or Democratic leadership to even take note of the report. While Kemp circulated the report to the national news media with a cover letter explaining its purpose, it scarcely has surfaced. The truth hurts, even if we should be celebrating the findings of Dr. James Gordon Prather, a nuclear scientist who served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of the army for science and technology. There of course is nothing in his report that suggests the Chinese are NOT trying to pry secrets from us, only air-tight arguments that what has been put on the record thus far does not constitute evidence that they have. When I posted the report here on Thursday, where it remained over the weekend, it was introduced by a memo from me to Rep. Chris Cox, in which I attempted to explain that if our relationship with China is to develop into an adversarial one, it should not be based on faulty assumptions on our part. My hope is that Novak's column today will force the news media to look at the Prather Report in this light, and that it will encourage Members of Congress to do so too. Because you already have been a leading skeptic, my hope is that you will come to the forefront in broadcasting the report and its implications.

* * * * *


Jack Kemp last Wednesday released a startling document that was quickly consigned to oblivion. An experienced weapons scientist found that the Cox Report erred in claiming Chinese espionage penetrated U.S. weapons laboratories while failing to recognize Clinton administration culpability. As much as President Clinton would rather not hear this, Republicans like it even less.

That goes for William J. Bennett, Kemp's fellow Republican wise man and co-director of their conservative Empower America organization. Gordon Prather, a nuclear physicist with long experience in government weapons programs, was commissioned by Kemp to produce an Empower America report. But Bennett barely glanced at the finished product when he said: Not on my watch! The Prather Report was quietly released under Kemp's personal aegis.

A scientist and no politician, Prather takes 26 pages to demolish the impressions left by the bipartisan report of the select House committee headed by Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of California. He declares that Clinton's nuclear disarmament opened the nation's nuclear secrets to the world, while the post-Cox Report tightening of security actually enlarged the true menace of Russian nuclear proliferation by ending cooperation with Moscow. There goes the Clinton administration's credibility. There goes the GOP's Chinese peril. No wonder nobody likes it.

Prather for many years had access to national secrets, but not in preparing this analysis. He relied on the Cox committee's report and, significantly, the widely ignored findings by government technical experts.

The Cox committee's principal charge: "The People's Republic of China's penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades, and almost certainly continues today." That, says Prather, "is almost certainly not true." Nor, he adds, is there evidence that China ever stole anything from the labs, that any lab scientist ever gave the PRC classified information or that China has incorporated U.S. secrets into its weapons systems. Prather says Clinton's policy of "openness" at the U.S. weapons labs "damaged" future national security. The United States let it be known that it never would build another nuclear weapon and "invited the PRC weapons scientists to come over and check us out." With millions of pages of secrets made public, there was "no need to 'spy' since the Clinton administration has thrown open the gates."

Furthermore, the Prather Report suggests that openness was intended to extract Chinese secrets. If China's scientists picking up openly displayed U.S. secrets after being invited to get them is defined as espionage, "then the Clinton administration asked U.S. lab scientists to 'spy.' "

Prather dismisses highly publicized charges that Taiwan-born Peter Lee, a U.S. scientist employed at the Los Alamos laboratory, stole secrets. Whoever allowed the Cox committee to make these "ridiculous" allegations, says Prather, "did so because the alleged spying incident happened on [Ronald] Reagan's, not Clinton's, watch."

The real post-Cold War threat, contends Prather, is proliferation of Russian nuclear weapons. The administration's "draconian" security measures taken in the wake of the Cox Report "are going to further devastate our own nuclear weapons infrastructure while killing the one set of programs [cooperating with Russia] that had any chance of preventing the proliferation of Russian 'loose nukes.' "

Bennett declined to discuss the matter with me on the record. But the Republican establishment is permanently wedded to the demonization of China. The lead editorial in the last Weekly Standard (co-authored by editor William Kristol, Bennett's former chief of staff) suggests that the United States should turn from the Balkans to China "to check Beijing's ambitions."

That suggests Republicans are too committed to Chinese-bashing to pay close attention to Kemp's cover letter to the Prather Report: "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 administration's own ill-conceived security strategy."

Robert Novak appears on the CNN programs "Capital Gang" at 6 p.m. Saturday, and "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields" at 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.