Silence at the Times
Jude Wanniski
July 22, 1999


Memo To: Howell Raines, NYTimes editorial page editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Chinese Espionage at the National Labs

There has been a lot going on in the last week or so about the China Espionage story that had been so big in the news pages of the Times since Jeff Gerth broke the story in April. I've been keeping the Times editors informed from the first days about my suspicions that the story was incorrect in all particulars -- that the Beijing government did not penetrate our national nuclear labs, that it stole no secrets from us, and that our scientists did not give any to them. I informed you when the report commissioned by Jack Kemp of Empower America was issued, based on the evaluation and assessment of a nuclear physicist who had worked at the labs and served as deputy assistant secretary of Army in the Reagan administration. The report of Dr. Gordon Prather concluded that the report of the Cox Commission, which treated the Chinese espionage story as a proven fact, was as empty of evidence as I had suggested would be the case all along. As far as I know, the Times has not had a line about the Prather Report, which Jack Kemp has been defending in his talks with the news media, most recently on MSNBC. My working assumption has been that the Times is embarrassed at having trumpeted the spy story without having it sufficiently vetted by people who knew something about nuclear weaponry and the operation of the labs. I also assumed the story would have "legs," moving forward in a way that would force the Times to put aside its embarrassment and let its readers in on the news that maybe the Chinese did not penetrate our national labs and now did not possess all our most vital nuclear secrets.

In the last week, Rep. Jack Spratt [D-SC], a member of the Cox Commission who signed its report, now has issued his own report detailing his misgivings about its findings. His report, which can be found on his website at was written without knowledge of the Prather Report yet offers an assessment that almost is identical to that of Dr. Prather. The only mystery to me is why he would sign the Cox Commission report when his misgivings cover almost every word of the commission report. If you have not seen Spratt's statement, I suggest you go to the address I provided and read it in its entirety. Then I suggest you go to the website of Insight magazine where you will find a report by Sam Cohen, a prominent nuclear scientist who is credited with development of the "neutron bomb," although Cohen points out in the article that a true "neutron bomb," a zero-fission bomb, has never been developed. Cohen practically ridicules the Cox Commission for its findings, with many of the same arguments in the Prather Report and in the Spratt statement of misgivings.

Once you read the material, Howell, I think you will agree that this is an important story and deserves space in the Times even though it makes Jeff Gerth's "scoop" look bad. My belief is that the Cox Commission deserves to be flogged for its sloppiness -- putting together a report because it wanted to believe in Chinese espionage so much that it did not want to vet the findings with experts in nuclear weaponry. Rep. Chris Cox [R-CA], who was assigned the committee chairmanship back when Newt Gingrich was speaker, is a Catholic with very pronounced views on China's human rights record, who I believe has been biased in his inquiries from the outset. As a fellow Catholic, I told him China's problems with the Vatican can be worked out if the Vatican agrees to recognize Beijing, not Taiwan, as the sovereign. We don't have to find reasons to antagonize the Beijing government, giving their hawks reason to shout down those who are eager to expand a constructive engagement with the United States. I was a hawk for more of my life, a Cold Warrior, and I'm ready to take up intellectual arms against Beijing if our national security was at issue. I not only do not believe it is, but that my old Cold War allies are bent on igniting an adversarial relationship. That I will not buy. This is no small matter, Howell, which is why I have spent so much time on it, giving heartburn to many of my friends in the Republican Party because I've been questioning the reliability of the Cox report. (Although the more news comes out as in Insight, the more my old friends are realizing they may have been too quick to believe in the spy story themselves.)

Please pass this memo on to Joe Lelyveld and Mr. Sulzberger. They surely have been following the story as it has progressed and may agree that the Times should swing into action, embarrassment or not.