Everybody Knows About the China Spies?
Jude Wanniski
May 17, 1999


Memo To: House Majority Whip Tom DeLay
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Not So

In my last open Memo on the Margin to you, I praised your forthright criticism of the President's blunders in the Balkans, especially the bombing campaign that is killing the Kosovars we are supposedly saving from death at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic. As Jack Kemp put it, this is an international WACO, where women and children are incinerated or ripped to shreds by cluster bombs in order to protect them from a fate worse than death. The bodies and the excuses continue to pile up, Tom, with civilians comprising at least 80% of all the casualties caused by NATO bombs. I'm ashamed to watch the news programs any more, listening to old friends of mine tell one lie atop another to absolve themselves and their bosses from the crimes we are committing against humanity. How does Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, once a colleague of mine at The Wall Street Journal, get the nerve to say that Serbs are forcing civilians into Kosovo villages they somehow know are going to be bombed by NATO. How does Sen. Orrin Hatch, a friend for more than 20 years, say that China should apologize to us for permitting their citizens to demonstrate against the American embassy in Beijing, simply because we bombed their embassy in Belgrade, killing Chinese nationals? What would Orrin have them do? Club the demonstrators senseless? Or have them machine-gunned for throwing rocks at the embassy?

My memo today, though, is about your comment on the Sunday talk shows that "Everybody knows" the Chinese have been spying on us and stealing nuclear secrets. Yes, I suppose you have sufficient confidence in Rep. Chris Cox and the work his committee did in examining technology transfers to assume he has a pat hand in his case against China. Because Chris went into his investigation with a well-known bias against China on cultural and human-rights matters, I've wondered how he could produce a reliable report on technology transfer, which is why I've devoted a great deal of time to vetting the material I've seen emerge in the national press. As far as I can tell, Tom, China did not steal anything from us and did not get anything from us that amounts to more than a hill of beans. China's U.S. Ambassador Li, who was on Meet the Press Sunday denying having stolen any nuclear secrets from us, probably is telling the truth. I've had a respected Ph.D. physicist who held a high, sensitive post in the Reagan administration examine every assertion of espionage as it has appeared, with neither of us employed by anyone to do this vetting, and he concludes there is nothing there. NOTHING.

If I were you, Tom, I'd ask Chris Cox if he had a full-time, experienced nuclear physicist vet the allegations against China. My source believes he did not, for the simple reason that the report alleges China stole secrets about our neutron bomb technology when he says we don't have a neutron bomb to begin with. He points out that the Pentagon would have had to submit a Requirement for neutron technology to the National Labs in order to produce such a weapon. He knows of no such Requirement having been submitted. He further believes it is implausible that the Pentagon would have a use for such a weapon or that it would squander precious resources on such a costly project without a realistic use for one.

He believes there is a general confusion surrounding the stories of nuclear espionage. He makes an emphatic point that the Taiwanese scientist who worked 27 years at the Los Alamos lab, and recently was fired by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for having been under suspicion for many years, was not a nuclear scientist. He was a computer scientist and according to my source would not know what to steal. Only a nuclear scientist would be able to tell what we had in our inventory of secrets that might be of use to China, and if it could be delivered, the Chinese nuclear scientist would have to know almost as much as we do about the data to benefit from it. Here is how he puts it: "If the Legacy Files are what I presume they are, then Wen Ho Lee wouldn't know how to make use of them, and although there would be scientists in the PRC who would know how to make use of them IF they were made intelligible to them, the Legacy Files would not be intelligible unless someone to whom they were intelligible explicated them to the PRC. That is, unless someone put a ‘HELP' file at the top like the one at the top of your email. And it's not a simple matter of translating an English HELP' file to ‘Mandarin.' I doubt very much that there is a ‘Help' file in any language in the Legacy Files."

I told my Ph.D. source several of my friends in the press corps tell me the CIA privately has advised them that China's development of a W-88 miniaturized warhead only could have come from our labs. He tells me that if the CIA is basing that assertion on analysis of China's last underground test in 1997, as is supposed to be the case, it almost certainly is in error. As he put it to me in his own words, which I relayed to the editors of the NYTimes over the weekend:

My short critique is that everything, I mean everything written in the past about this subject is apparently now 'inoperative'. They have started with a clean sheet of canvas and painted a whole new Jackson Pollack. My sense is that a lot of what we have been reading of late is 'chaff,' deliberate obfuscation by the Clintonoid Blame-Game Spinners. Apparently there is no PRC-spy smoking gun on the Carter, Reagan and Bush 'watch' and the only possibility of a smoking PRC-spy gun on anybody's watch looks now to be the downloaded LosAlamos Legacy files which we are told were downloaded by Wen Ho Lee in 1994 on Clinton's watch. But if that turns out to have resulted from the Clintonoids urging the Labs to 'make nice with the PRC weapons labs' that is quite a smoking gun. I think the Clinton Administration is unlikely to charge Wen Ho Lee with espionage, even if they ‘get the goods' on him, because if I was his Lawyer, that would be my defense: ‘Clinton wanted me to do it'.

Now the question is, can Congress sort all this out, clear the Labs of the charges flung about for their conduct up until 1993, and pin the blame for whatever may have happened vis a vis the PRC Weapons Labs on the correct jackass.. . [1] Starting right in the middle, Gerth et al now 'report' that 'some' officials 'think' that PRC weapons scientists 'may' have applied something they learned 'about' a Livermore 'primary' used in -- among other thermonuclear weapons -- the Livermore W-70 [which Gerth et al now claim is the US 'neutron bomb'] in designing the PRC warhead -- which may have been based on the design of the LosAlamos W-88 -- for the PRC DF31 missile. [You may have trouble following that trail and other 'officials' apparently do, too. Jesus, I guess they do.]

I don't want to even speculate about what could have been the 'secret' of the Livermore 'primary' used in --among other weapons -- the Livermore W-70, or how the PRC could have got that 'secret', or how we could possibly have concluded from our analysis of PRC UGT seismic data what the performance of the 'primary' of the 'DF31 Warhead' was, much less how we could have concluded from that performance, that the PRC must have used design information that they somehow obtained from Livermore to improve the design of the DF31-W 'primary'. [Remember that this is seismic data that is being 'unfolded'. I doubt seriously that Livermore scientists could tell you -- on the basis of direct measurement of the reaction history of a full scale UGT of a Livermore warhead -- which Livermore 'primary' had been used in the warhead. If you asked them to do that on the basis of unfolded seismic data they would probably say something very rude to you.] Are you all still with me? You can now -- on the basis of this May 14 NYT article -- forget everything you have read recently or understood about the 'neutron bomb', because the W-70 has been in our stockpile for some years and I reckon it may well be an 'enhanced radiation' warhead for our early ABM missiles and it ain't -- by anybody's definition -- a 'neutron bomb'. I reiterate, the only 'devices' that get 'weaponized' and are produced and go into stockpile, are warheads for which DOD has issued a Requirement, and that DOD requirement has to be in relation to some DOD Weapons System. And so far as I know, DOD has never issued a Requirement for a 'neutron bomb.'

But Gerth et al are no longer reporting an intelligence assessment that the PRC may have stolen the whole W-70, the whole 'neutron bomb' [or if you accept my definition, the whole ER warhead]. Livermore was organized so that one division [B Division] was responsible for "primaries" and another division [A Division] was responsible for "secondaries" etc. So Gerth et al are alleging that the PRC somehow stole one of the many 'models' from B Division's display showcase -- the hardtop with white sidewall tires, for example.

This Gerth piece merely mentions in passing the LosAlamos W-88 -- the 'revolutionary' miniaturized LosAlamos warhead that went into stockpile in the mid eighties for the Trident-II 'nutty-buddy' MIRVs -- whose stolen design was earlier reported to be the 'model' for the PRC DF31 Warhead, which according to some intelligence types, now incorporates the stolen Livermore primary. I'll bet weapons scientists at Livermore, LosAlamos, Beijing and Arzamas-16 are all laughing off about that one. Those Inscrutable Chinese took one from Column A and one from Column B. With a party of 4 or more, do you suppose you get egg-roll?

Over the years, Tom, since I first got a close-up look at Congress in 1965, it has been my experience that very few members ever show more interest in the pursuit of truth than they do in pleasing their constituents and holding their seats. You are a rarity. It has, for example, been noted that even though you endorse your Texas governor, George W, you are in total disagreement with him on Kosovo, where he says he would, if President, prosecute the war "ferociously." What makes Congress work as well as it does over time is that the clash of opinion eventually sheds light where darkness would otherwise prevail. In this instance, it may take someone like you to push that process along, even though it might upset your preconceptions. Indeed, it should make you feel better about the state of the world if you suddenly discovered that there was one thing you have been worried about that is not a problem after all.