"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018

'Rudman Report' Adds Fuel to DOE Reorganization Fire

Howard Diamond

SPURRED BY THE COX Report's allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs and a blistering report by a high-level investigative panel that concluded the Department of Energy (DOE) is incapable of reforming itself, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering legislation that would create a semi-autonomous agency within DOE to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex. As of late June, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson continued to express strong opposition to any restructuring plan that called for the creation of a separate entity either within or outside his department.

The two similar bills—one sponsored by Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and the other by Republican Senators Pete Domenici (NM), Jon Kyl (AZ) and Frank Murkowski (AK)—would establish a new agency to take control of DOE's nuclear weapons production facilities, laboratories and related operations offices. The administrator of the new agency would be "dual-hatted" as an undersecretary of energy, reporting directly to the secretary of energy.

Secretary Richardson's objections to the reorganization plan have focused on whether the new agency would be bound by policies established by other DOE offices. Both the House and the Senate proposals would give the agency administrator autonomy from the department in establishing counterintelligence, security and safety policies.

In response to espionage at the weapons labs, Richardson gave new authority to DOE's Office of Counterintelligence, and in May announced the establishment of two new high-level offices for Security and Emergency Operations and for Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance. He has objected that those reforms, meant to increase the department's control over the weapons complex, would be undermined if the new agency were allowed to set its own policies.

Rudman Panel Reports

The move to reform DOE was bolstered by the report of a special investigative panel of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, led by former Senator Warren Rudman. (See feature.) The Rudman Report, requested in March by President Clinton to examine security at the weapons laboratories and released on June 15, describes DOE as a "dysfunctional bureaucracy that has proven it is incapable of reforming itself" and calls for the creation of an autonomous or semi-autonomous Agency for Nuclear Stewardship. Similar to proposals now being considered by Congress, the Rudman panel urges the new agency head be made an undersecretary of energy and report directly to the secretary of energy.

The presidential panel strongly advised against giving control of the nuclear weapons complex to the Defense Department and affirmed the validity of the "government-owned, contractor-operated" system used by the nuclear labs. The panel also recommended that the laboratories' Foreign Visitors' and Assignments Program continue, though with a greater emphasis on security.

The Rudman Report praised the national laboratories for their "brilliant scientific breakthroughs," but concluded that their lackadaisical approach to security and their ongoing resistance to reform could only be addressed by legislative reorganization of DOE. Referring to the administration's February 1998 order to improve security in the Energy Department, the panel reported that it had never encountered "an agency with the bureaucratic insolence to dispute, delay, and resist implementation of a Presidential directive on security, as DOE's bureaucracy tried to do to the Presidential Decision Directive No. 61...."

The Rudman panel also took issue with the Cox Report and with Secretary Richardson's response to it. (See ACT, April/May 1999.) Agreeing with damage assessments made by the Intelligence Community and a review panel led by retired Admiral David Jeremiah, the Rudman Report criticized the Cox panel's work, observing "many attempts to take the valuable coin of damaging new information and decrease its value by manufacturing its counterfeit, innuendo; possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion have been cast as diabolical conspiracies." Richardson, while receiving praise for his energetic approach to reform of DOE, was criticized for overstating his success in improving security when he asserted after the Cox Report's release in May that "our nation's nuclear secrets are, today, safe and secure."

SPURRED BY THE COX Report's allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs and a blistering report by a high-level investigative panel that concluded the Department of Energy (DOE) is incapable of reforming itself, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering legislation that would create a semi-autonomous agency within DOE to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex. As of late June, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson continued to express strong opposition to any restructuring plan that called for the creation of a separate entity either within or outside his department. (Continue)

Why China Won't Build U.S. Warheads

Richard L. Garwin

Back to Cox Report Main Page

Despite the uncertainty as to how much information on U.S. thermonuclear weapons has actually been compromised, the charges in the Cox Report are sufficiently serious that one should examine the extent to which the acquisition of such information by China would impair U.S. security. The report focuses primarily on the alleged compromise of design information on the W-88 thermonuclear warhead for the Trident-II (D-5) submarine-launched ballistic missile, and to a lesser extent the W-70 enhanced radiation warhead. The important questions are: What can China do with this information that it could not have done without it, and does it matter to the United States?

A great deal of unclassified information is available on the W-88. It is a modern two-stage thermonuclear weapon that is packaged in a conical reentry vehicle (RV) less than six feet tall with a base diameter of only 22 inches. The explosive yield of the W-88 warhead is about 500 kilotons—some 30 times that of the weapons that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

According to the Cox Report, the hard information about China's knowledge of the W-88 comes from a document provided by a "walk-in" who provided the CIA in 1995 with a classified Chinese document containing some still-classified information about the W-88. As noted in the intelligence community's Damage Assessment, it is not known whether China acquired "any weapon design documentation or blueprints."

In order to put in perspective the value of any such information to China, one should review the history and probable status of its nuclear weapons program. China tested its first fission weapon in 1964 (an implosion device fueled by uranium-235) and its first two-stage thermonuclear weapon a little over two years later. This was remarkable progress. All told, China conducted 45 nuclear tests (the same number as Britain) during its 33 years of testing, which ended in July 1996.

The Damage Assessment states: "China has had the technical capability to develop a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) system for its large, currently deployed ICBM for many years, but has not done so. U.S. information acquired by the Chinese could help them develop a MIRV for a future mobile missile." In other words, while still-classified information on the W-88 might be helpful, there is no reason to believe that China could not have built perfectly adequate warheads for its mobile missiles or a MIRVed missile from nuclear technology that it developed itself, supplemented by facts long declassified about U.S. and other nuclear warheads.

But there are reasons why Beijing would not have sought to build MIRVed missiles in the first place. As stated by the Cox Committee, China has under development a mobile ICBM, the DF-31, which is a smaller missile than its current ICBM, the DF-5A. But, if the motivation for this mobile missile is simply (as suggested by both the Cox Report and the Damage Assessment) a desire to have a secure second-strike capability, multiple warheads may not be necessary or even desirable, since this would increase the value of a missile as a target in a foreign pre-emptive strike.

China's current nuclear doctrine does not require the deployment of large numbers of MIRVed missiles. The United States and Russia deployed thousands of highly accurate RVs in order to be able to destroy with some confidence hardened targets such as missile silos. China's deterrent doctrine requires simply the ability to destroy in a retaliatory strike a modest fraction of the population and industry of a potential enemy. Were China intent on developing a counterforce capability, it could long ago have increased its ICBM force beyond the 20 or so silo-based missiles that can now deliver warheads to the United States. It is likely therefore that the impetus behind the mobile ICBMs is (as the Cox Report implies) to make China's strategic nuclear force more survivable against nuclear attack by the United States.

Moreover, MIRVs are also not the optimal weapons if China anticipates encountering a U.S. national missile defense (NMD) system such as that currently proposed to protect all U.S. territory with hit-to-kill exo-atmospheric interceptors. Instead, China is far more likely to use effective countermeasures (such as light-weight decoy balloons) rather than multiple RVs on its future missiles.

The advanced features of the W-88 come at a price. Its narrow conical RV (the Mk-5) poses serious constraints on the design of the nuclear warhead that it carries. Either substantial payload capacity must be devoted to tungsten or uranium ballast in the nose of the RV, or increased development costs and compromises must be made so that the warhead itself is of small enough diameter to fit well down within the cone. The primary reason for such a narrow cone is to achieve very high accuracy on reentry, in the face of winds. Unless China's strategic nuclear force were to grow greatly in warhead numbers to a point where it could threaten the survival of the U.S. ICBM silos, Beijing would have imposed a significant penalty on itself by deploying such sleek RVs. Very high accuracy is irrelevant to maintaining a countervalue ("city-busting") deterrent.

In addition, as a practical matter, for China to replicate the W-88/Mk-5 combination would require not only major advances in nuclear weapons design and fabrication, but also in much of the ancillary equipment such as firing and fuzing, electronics and tritium gas storage. The impediments to small, modern warheads may lie more in these technologies than in the primary and secondary explosive packages themselves. For all of the above reasons, my own judgment is that, even if China were confident that it had every detail of the W-88 and its Mk-5 reentry vehicle, it would not reproduce the weapon.

In a modern two-stage thermonuclear weapon, the energy released from a boosted primary nuclear explosive (mostly in the form of soft X-rays) is briefly contained within a radiation case. The energy and pressure of this radiation compresses, heats and ignites the secondary explosive. This process, from the implosion of the plutonium in the primary to the compression and ignition of the secondary, is the subject of calculation and experiment. In fact, much of the work on primaries is performed with "hydrodynamic experiments," in which high explosives are used to compress plutonium or simulant materials (with no release of fission energy), with the implosion imaged by intense pulses of penetrating X-rays. The process of compression and ignition of the secondary is also the subject of intense computational effort, but the speed and violence of this process is such that high-explosive experiments have no relevance.

Over the decades, computer codes have been used to gain an understanding of this process. The design of a thermonuclear weapon is an interplay between invention and experiment, but because full-scale nuclear explosions provide only limited diagnostic opportunities, computer models that are believed to incorporate the essential phenomena have been used to develop intuition and to design something that is verified (or contradicted) by test. Quite distinct computational codes are suitable for the implosion of the primary before there is any significant fission energy, for the explosion of the primary, for the transfer of the radiation from the primary to the region of the secondary, for the implosion of the secondary, and for the explosion of the secondary.

Calculations for the early implosion weapons could be "one dimensional" because everything (temperature, pressure, density, neutron numbers, flow of radiation) depended only on the radius, while for a two-stage thermonuclear weapon two-dimensional calculations are both necessary and sufficient because there is an axis of symmetry in a normal two-stage device. With a two-stage weapon, the very complex calculations involved are only approximate, and comparison with results from actual testing is necessary to fix some parameters in the calculation. For the United States, our knowledge of secondaries comes from complex computer codes and from the experience gained from a good fraction of the 1,030 U.S. tests conducted since 1945.

Following the release of the declassified Cox Report, it was revealed that a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist with access to the computer codes for the simulation of thermonuclear warhead explosions downloaded some of these codes from a classified computer at the lab to an unclassified computer, where they might have been accessed by unauthorized users including China. It has not been made public, and may not be known, whether any detailed design information accompanied these codes. However, even if the information that was transferred comprised the so-called "legacy codes" for U.S. weapons and if that included the programs that were actually used to simulate explosions in connection with the design of the W-88, it is not at all clear that such a transfer in 1998, for instance, would greatly enhance China's future design capability.

In a letter published in The Wall Street Journal on May 17, 1998, Harold Agnew states: "The design of the W-88...is actually quite old. The basic test was done by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory...when I was director, and I retired 20 years ago. It is a 'delicate' and neat package." He goes on: "No nation would ever stockpile any device based on another nation's computer codes." In my view, even the United States, with its extensive experience in designing and building advanced thermonuclear weapons, would place little confidence in a boosted primary unless it had been demonstrated in a full-yield nuclear explosion.

A great deal of computer code development has taken place totally outside the nuclear powers' weapons establishments in conjunction with, for example, astrophysics and inertial confinement fusion research, which is also conducted in non-nuclear-weapon states such as Germany and Japan. U.S. nuclear weapons designers benefit greatly from these unclassified efforts elsewhere, and feel it essential to participate in similar activities in the United States such as at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They can then apply these and other classified computational techniques and experimental experience to the U.S. stockpile stewardship program. Chinese designers also benefit from this foreign, unclassified, and open research and publication, which has substantially advanced the state of the computational art beyond what it was in the 1970s.

In discussing China's acquisition in the 1980s of design information on the W-70, which is described as "an enhanced radiation nuclear warhead or 'neutron bomb,'" the Cox Report asserts: "The U.S. has never deployed a neutron weapon." In fact, the United States deployed 80 SPRINT ballistic missile defense (BMD) interceptors with W-66 enhanced radiation warheads for use with the Safeguard ABM system at Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the mid-1970s. As stated by Cox Committee member Representative John Spratt (D-SC) in a May 25 statement on the panel's report, the United States also manufactured and stored in Army depots hundreds of such warheads: the W-70 on the Lance tactical missile and the W-79 on an 8-inch artillery round. Because China has no BMD system and would hardly plan intercepts within the atmosphere (to defend hardened targets), that application of the enhanced radiation weapon is irrelevant to its needs. Similarly, it is most unlikely that China will fight troops in combat with neutron bombs rather than with cheaper weapons of higher yield and greater destructive power.

Despite these reservations about the utility to China of the information regarding the W-88 and W-70, one cannot condone the fact that the Department of Energy (DOE) made such minimal investments and such little use of information technology to protect classified information. In particular, elementary cyber-security, such as implementing an access log and a transaction log of users on classified systems, would help to deter and to impede the transfer of classified material to unclassified computers. It would also help to catch the perpetrator if such actions were not deterred. It seems clear that insufficient attention was paid to preventing intentional or unintentional transmittal of classified information to unauthorized persons in ways that would not significantly interfere with efficient operation of the laboratory. Counterintelligence was clearly inadequate as well.

Interestingly, there is no claim that foreign visitors to the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories acquired classified information. Rather, the instances cited in the Cox Report deal with U.S. citizens who are said to have intentionally provided classified information to China. But cutting off all contact with scientists from Russia, China or certain "sensitive countries," as some in Congress have proposed, is not the solution. The United States gains a great deal of information through these and reciprocal unclassified visits and interchanges, and it is impossible to further some of the highest priority goals of the United States—that of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, for instance—without substantive visits of technical personnel back and forth. Paying more attention to the avoidance of inadvertent disclosures and to the deterrence of intentional but unauthorized transfer of information is essential. We need rapid and effective action to prevent such transfers in the future, but it should not be action that is faster than thought.

If the Cox Report results in more effective security against unauthorized transfer of classified information from DOE, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, it will have had a salutary effect. However, the alleged acquisition by the Chinese of the particular nuclear weapon information in regard to the W-88 and W-70 would not appear to directly impair U.S. security. To build nuclear weapons on the basis of this information, China would need to make massive investments and would acquire a capability not particularly helpful to them.

Most importantly, China would need to test such weapons before deploying them—partial design information and computer codes alone are not sufficient. It would be a mistake to imagine that leakage to China of classified nuclear weapons information could be compensated by further U.S. nuclear weapon development, which would also require testing. A newly nuclear state acquiring 1950s or 1960s nuclear weapon technology and design information from either the U.S. or China (or from Russia) is probably the greater danger. But these implosion weapons would also require tests to merit any confidence. The most effective U.S. response to the threat posed by the possible leakage of sensitive nuclear weapon design information to either other nuclear-weapon states or countries with nuclear ambitions is to prohibit their nuclear testing by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and exerting every effort to bring it into force as soon as possible.


Richard L. Garwin is IBM fellow emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Don't Let Furor From Cox Report Undermine U.S.-Russian Cooperation

Kenneth N. Luongo

Back to Cox Report Main Page

The China nuclear spying furor has led to calls from some in Congress for major changes in U.S. collaboration with foreign scientists on non-proliferation and arms control activities. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, for one, has even called for the application of a legislative "tourniquet" to cut off foreign scientist visits to America's pre-eminent national laboratories. However, this tourniquet could become a noose that will strangle collaborations that are vital for U.S. national security, particularly if applied to the numerous laboratory-to-laboratory collaborations that the United States and Russia have initiated.

The U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear security agenda evolved from rocky beginnings, but it has become an important foundation of U.S.-Russian relations. While this cooperation has survived the initial scrutiny and animosity of Cold War bureaucracies and the recent U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia, it may not survive the suffocating new security rules that result from the Cox Report.

Since 1991, the United States and Russia have been working together to address the nuclear proliferation dangers that resulted from the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The agenda started with the so-called Nunn-Lugar security assistance legislation that provided $400 million in Department of Defense funds for work with several former Soviet republics and now has expanded to include funding from the departments of State and Energy and other agencies. The overall yearly budget for this work now exceeds $600 million.

Early Progress

In the early years of Nunn-Lugar, significant strides were made in facilitating the consolidation of the Soviet nuclear arsenal onto the territory of Russia; in promoting the non-nuclear-weapon-state status of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus; and in funding the destruction of former Soviet offensive ballistic missiles.

From 1994-98 major progress was made in improving the security of fissile material in Russia. By 2000, it is estimated that close to 100 metric tons of Russian fissile material that is not contained in weapons will be secured through this collaboration (about one-sixth of Russia's total stockpile).

At present, the partnership has moved to address the central issue underlying the nuclear proliferation danger in Russia: the need to downsize Russia's massively oversized and severely underfunded nuclear weapons complex. This new program is the Nuclear Cities Initiative.

The threat of proliferation from the Russian nuclear weapons complex is real, and it is acknowledged by senior Russian officials. The basic dangers are as follows:

• The complex currently supports approximately 127,000 workers and 600,000 dependents in 10 "closed" cities spread around the country. It has been officially declared that 30,000 to 50,000 of these employees are excess labor.

• Government funding for nuclear weapons activities has dropped significantly over the past 10 years, perhaps by as much as 50 percent or more.

• Workers are often paid months late. Current projections put the salary shortfall at around $400 million, and the depreciated ruble has made the wages that are paid worth much less.

• It is difficult for nuclear workers to move and find new jobs because of Russia's depressed economy and the holdover Soviet system of subsidizing apartments and services. The August 1998 economic collapse in Russia exacerbated this situation.

• There are 650 metric tons of non-weaponized plutonium and highly enriched uranium spread over about 40 locations and in 300 to 400 buildings.

• There is another 700 metric tons of fissile material in weapons, and more than 1,000 of these weapons move through the complex yearly for dismantlement and refurbishment.

• Russia retains the capability to produce thousands of nuclear warheads per year.

• There have been cases of attempted smuggling of weapon- grade fissile materials from Russian nuclear facilities.

• Countries of proliferation concern are seeking access to key Russian nuclear weapon ingredients, including nuclear material, scientists and technology.

• The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) has signed a number of contracts to perform work in countries of proliferation concern (including Iran, India and China) in an effort to generate cash. This has caused concern in the West and irritated U.S.-Russian political relations.

• New concerns are arising about the ability to ensure adequate numbers of trained custodians for the nuclear complex in the next century, and about the nuclear consequences of a possible regional breakup of Russia.

U.S.-Russian Cooperation

Given the dangers presented by the Russian nuclear complex, the objectives of U.S.-Russian cooperation are to prevent proliferation by theft and diversion of materials, technologies and scientists; to irreversibly eliminate excess fissile materials and warheads; and to downsize the complex in a rational manner. To accomplish these objectives, the United States and Russia have engaged in five categories of activity:

• Securing nuclear weapons, weapon-usable fissile materials and technologies;

• Limiting fissile material production and use;

• Instituting irreversible nuclear reductions;

• Disposing of excess fissile material; and

• Stabilizing nuclear custodians and downsizing the complex.

To execute these programs effectively, hundreds of laboratory-to-laboratory visits have been required. Before the U.S. and Russian laboratories commenced intensive cooperation, when only government-to-government dialogue was permitted, little progress was made with Russia on many of these issues. Years more work, and likely many hundreds more foreign scientist visits, will be required if the major proliferation challenges posed by Russia are to be resolved.

There has been no charge by the Cox Committee or other openly available official reports that visiting Russian scientists gained access to U.S. nuclear weapons secrets while on official business at the laboratories. In fact, virtually all of these visitors are confined to unclassified areas of the labs during their stays. Still, the threat of foreign spying at U.S. labs is real, and the current focus is on China's spying efforts at U.S. labs and the role of a U.S. lab scientist in China's acquisition of sensitive information. But efforts to improve a flawed laboratory security system should not smother activities that are in the vital interest of the United States.

Yet, there are already early indications that important work is being slowed by tightened security. For example, the newly required intensified checks of foreign visitors have resulted in at least one senior Russian scientist with no foreign intelligence ties being uninvited to a laboratory meeting. Also, a Russian military officer was excluded from the Washington offices of a national laboratory. And one major meeting of U.S. and Russian laboratory specialists was postponed because of background-check bureaucracy. And this occurred in just the first few weeks after the Cox Report was released. Panic-driven Department of Energy efforts to enhance security and pending congressional legislation which calls for months-long cooling off periods and greater security scrutiny could worsen this situation. At the very least, it will further embolden the ascendant anti-U.S. forces in Russia that have already crimped cooperative security collaboration with U.S. laboratories because they believe it is a cover for U.S. spying.

The establishment of U.S.-Russian cooperative programs entailed calculated risks for both sides because progress requires access to the nuclear crown jewels of each nation. The security apparatuses in both countries have never been fully comfortable with these efforts because of the sensitivity of the facilities involved and decades of mutual mistrust. Political skepticism from nationalists and unreformed Cold Warriors in both countries have fueled these security concerns. But these programs have been identified as being among the most important for international security by the political leadership of both nations. And they have helped create a level of trust, flow of information and non-proliferation consciousness that will make it difficult to return to an era when U.S. and Russian nuclear scientists work only to perfect new bomb designs.

In the wake of the nuclear spying reports, President Clinton ordered an independent panel of nuclear experts to review the findings of the damage assessment recommended by the Cox Committee. Led by former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral David Jeremiah, and including President Bush's national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, the panel concluded that contacts with Russian and Chinese nuclear weapons specialists have value to the United States and that this "should not be lost in our concern about protecting secrets." The panel called for a special assessment of these cooperative efforts. This is a prudent action that may help further strengthen security surrounding foreign visits while allowing their benefits to continue.

The nuclear spying allegations contained in the Cox Report are clearly alarming and must be rapidly addressed. But the remedies should be directed at the real problems. U.S.-Russian laboratory-to-laboratory collaborations are choking off proliferation dangers to the United States and the world community. Applying a tight tourniquet to limit these activities will impede the required rapid response to a clear-and-present danger to our security future.

Kenneth N. Luongo is the former director of the Department of Energy's Office of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and senior advisor to the secretary of energy for non-proliferation policy (1994-1997). He is currently the executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council and a visiting research collaborator at Princeton University.

Hyping Chinese Espionage

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

With little evidence and flawed logic, the Cox Report has concluded that China, exploiting purloined U.S. nuclear weapons design information, can now match U.S. nuclear weapons technology and emerge as a major nuclear threat to the United States. The report, presented in three lavishly illustrated volumes suitable for coffee table display, is clearly designed to hype a new Chinese nuclear missile threat rather than objectively examine the extent and implications of alleged Chinese nuclear espionage. Whatever the truth about the extent of the espionage, this extreme worst-case assessment is grossly misleading and threatens rational U.S. diplomatic and defense policy toward Beijing.

The report's case rests primarily on a reference in a classified Chinese document to certain aspects of the design of the Trident D-5 missile's W-88 thermonuclear warhead, which indicates Chinese access to classified information from an unidentified source. However, Cox Committee member Representative John Spratt (D-SC), in an act of considerable political courage, has revealed the paucity of evidence supporting the report's stark conclusions and pointed out that the Cox Committee had no evidence that the Chinese had actually obtained any blueprints or detailed engineering specifications on the W-88 or any other U.S. thermonuclear weapon. This important conclusion was also reached by the intelligence community in its damage assessment of the material presented in the classified version of the report.

While China would undoubtedly profit from the details of the W-88, Beijing would pay a steep price to make a "Chinese copy" of the sophisticated W-88, which does not match China's strategic requirements or its existing technology infrastructure. The W-88 is carefully designed to fit inside the D-5's slender reentry vehicle, which is necessary to achieve extremely high accuracy against hard targets. The Chinese ICBM force, numbering only 20 missiles, is clearly intended as a minimal deterrent against city targets where high accuracy is irrelevant. The report fails to recognize that China, with a substantial nuclear weapons program and 35 years' experience since its first test in 1964, already has the ability to develop small thermonuclear warheads based on its own technology. Such weapons would be suitable for China's anticipated, more survivable mobile ICBM or for future MIRVed missiles if it decides to develop them. Consequently, even if Beijing did obtain the detailed blueprints for the W-88, which is pure speculation, this would not change the limited Chinese nuclear threat to the United States that has existed for almost 20 years.

The report's feigned outrage with China's alleged efforts to steal U.S. nuclear secrets is an exercise in naivete or hypocrisy by members of Congress, who approve some $30 billion annually for U.S. intelligence activities and press for the increased use of spies. At the same time, while recognizing the pandemic nature of espionage, one cannot tolerate violations of trust by persons in sensitive positions or inadequate security practices that facilitate such actions. The report has created a cottage industry of recommendations on how to solve this difficult problem. But the answer certainly does not lie in creating insulated, Soviet-style nuclear cities where many of the brightest U.S. scientists would not work.

U.S.-Chinese relations have been dealt a serious blow by the report's implicit message that the United States should not do business with a country that presents a serious nuclear threat to U.S. security and engages in espionage against the U.S. nuclear establishment. However, there is no reason to believe China is any more of a threat today, or will be in the foreseeable future, than it has been for many years; and the charges of espionage, if true, are only the latest manifestation of an international environment where gentlemen read each other's mail whenever possible. Since President Nixon's opening of relations with China, every U.S. president has sought to improve U.S.-Chinese relations. In the interests of U.S. security, this policy should continue to be pursued on its own merits and not be undercut by hyped assessments of the Chinese nuclear threat or espionage activities.

If the Cox Committee is as concerned about Chinese espionage as it professes, it is puzzling that it chose to reject Spratt's proposal to recommend ratification of the CTB Treaty, which would prevent future Chinese tests from exploiting alleged purloined information. Experts agree that no rational state would risk producing thermonuclear weapons based on information, including even blueprints and full technical specifications, obtained from another state without tests, and would not rely on another country's computer codes to simulate the detonation of a device as a surrogate for actual testing. The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity and responsibility to correct this glaring omission by promptly ratifying the test ban treaty, which Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms has held hostage—to advance his own agenda—for nearly two years.

With little evidence and flawed logic, the Cox Report has concluded that China, exploiting purloined U.S. nuclear weapons design information, can now match U.S. nuclear weapons technology and emerge as a major nuclear threat to the United States.

Assessing the Cost vs. Benefit Of U.S.-Chinese Scientific Cooperation

Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky

Back to Cox Report Main Page

The Cox Report nominally addresses concerns about U.S. national security originating from scientific and technical interactions with the People's Republic of China (PRC). It alleges extensive losses of valuable national security information but does not attempt to balance cost vs. benefit of the extensive U.S.-Chinese technical and scientific interactions.

The report alleges that classified information on all of the most advanced U.S. thermonuclear weapons has been "stolen," but provides no evidence that actual documents containing detailed designs of U.S. nuclear weapons have been transmitted. The report does not provide any information that would lead to the conclusion that the "stolen" information in itself provides China material of sufficient merit to permit deployment of new nuclear weapons not in its stockpiles today, certainly not without resumption of nuclear tests. Nor are the allegations that information acquired through spying has "saved the PRC years of effort" substantiated.

Since a great deal of technical information about U.S. and Chinese nuclear weapons is publicly available, three fundamental questions remain unanswered. What, if any, range of information has been compromised between what is publicly known and what allegedly has been stolen? More importantly, is that information of sufficient value to the PRC to lead to new designs that can be fielded without nuclear tests, which are precluded by China's signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)? Finally, what impact would such weapons have on U.S. national security?

It is difficult to appraise in detail the allegations of the Cox Report as to Chinese spying. They are couched in generalities but by implication signal a depth of overall penetration that appears vastly overstated. The findings are formulated in a spirit to arouse animosity rather than as an objective analysis of known facts.

The declassified version of the report makes it difficult to examine the validity of most of the cited security breaks. Many of the technical facts cited, particularly in respect to the alleged compromises of U.S. missile technology, are simply wrong: dates of events, payloads and dimensions are incorrect. The alleged export of the design of the Titan missile by a senior Chinese scientist returning from the United States cannot have happened, because the time of design of the Titan and the date of return of the scientist make this impossible. The evidence in the area of violations of export controls may have resulted in improvements of reliability of Chinese rockets, but not, as claimed, in improved performance or accuracy.

Under the heading of "PRC Theft of U.S. Thermonuclear Weapons Design Information," the Cox Report cites statements by Premier Zhu Rongji when he received the U.S. delegates, of which I was one, attending the 19th meeting of the Sino-U.S. Joint Committee on High-Energy Physics in November 1998. Zhu expressed appreciation about the "two nations having conducted wide-ranging in-depth exchanges during the meeting and put forward many helpful proposals." The discussion dealt entirely with cooperation in fully open basic work in high-energy physics. In the meeting with the premier, U.S. and Chinese physicists pled for more financial support from the Chinese government for their efforts. The relationship of this meeting to "PRC theft of U.S. thermonuclear weapons design information" was zero!

In the nuclear weapons area, the significance of the so-called losses is unclear. While there are general allegations about a whole class of thermonuclear warheads, specifics are given only regarding the W-70 and the W-88 warheads. The W-70 exists in two versions, one being an "enhanced radiation" weapon, in which the neutron flux is augmented in addition to the mixture of lethal affects of nuclear weapons. The basic design principle of this so-called neutron bomb was compromised a long time ago and the Chinese carried out a test of such a device. The U.S. developed the W-70 enhanced radiation warhead to be carried by the short-range Lance missile. China never deployed such a neutron weapon, and the U.S. abandoned the deployed system having concluded justifiably that it lacks military value. The much publicized story about the W-88 is based in the Cox Report on the account of a Chinese "walk-in" agent giving the CIA a classified document containing design information on the W-88 that China allegedly obtained from U.S. weapons laboratories. Why a Chinese agent voluntarily gave this document incriminating himself to the CIA remains obscure. Most important, no evidence is presented that this loss of W-88 design information has had any direct influence on Chinese weapons.

It is ludicrous to claim that the alleged espionage outlined in the Cox Report would put Chinese "design information on thermonuclear weapons on a par with our own." A great deal is known about the numbers and characteristics of Chinese nuclear weapons. About 450 weapons are deployed, compared to about 10,000 for the U.S. China has carried out only 5 percent as many nuclear tests as the United States has. China has not deployed any multiple-warhead missiles and has subscribed officially to a no-first-use policy, meaning that the only mission of their nuclear weapons is to respond to attack or threat of attack with nuclear weapons.

Whether China will deploy multiple warheads based on designs making it possible to build nuclear weapons of a larger yield-to-weight ratio is unknown. In the future, China might utilize smaller warheads for deploying land-mobile rather than fixed silo-based missiles. This would enhance the survivability of Chinese weapons under attack. This, in contrast to the assertions made in the Cox Report, would be fully consistent with a continued Chinese no-first-use policy. Thus, there is little, if anything, alleged, and certainly not proven, in the report that significantly affects U.S. national security.

In view of the foregoing, the report should not modify U.S. views on Chinese intentions or plans. China is a nation of growing economic strength and increasing sophistication in its military deployments. I conclude that the damage to U.S. national security from Chinese intelligence activities alleged in the report is less than would be accrued if all the remedies that are being proposed to prevent recurrence of the alleged transgressions were to become reality.

The Cox Report charges that in addition to China's formal intelligence organizations, many other agencies with technical missions are also tasked with intelligence collection. In so doing, the report—without supporting evidence—effectively paints all visiting Chinese scientists and engineers with the same brush as being potential spies.

At the same time, the report does not address the valuable information that has been gathered by American visitors to China. Clearly the Chinese must assume that such visitors are likely to be debriefed after they return home. I can certify from my own experiences that my Chinese hosts have always been, if anything, more forthcoming with information than Americans are when Chinese technical professionals visit U.S. laboratories. I have twice visited the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (approximately the counterpart of the Lawrence Livermore and the Los Alamos laboratories combined) and have been able to communicate with Chinese colleagues under restraints very similar to those imposed on Chinese visitors to U.S. labs.

There is a basic tension between what I call security by restriction and security by achievement. One must recognize that however stringent security restrictions can be made, sooner or later such information will spread across the globe either through independent discovery or through open or clandestine conveyance. Thus, security in the broadest sense must be achieved through accumulation of new knowledge and wise application of it. Restrictions on existing information are, in essence, a delaying tactic to permit new achievements more time to evolve. Such new achievements should enhance security in many ways, building economic strength, morale, confidence in governmental institutions, as well as military strength.

The process for protecting knowledge in the United States is straightforward on the surface: information is classified and disseminated only to those with a security clearance and a certified, "need to know" connection with an authorized program. In practice, the system is very complex and, in addition, has become enormous, making it subject to bureaucratic failures associated with that size. Depending on their level of clearance, individuals have access to confidential, secret, top secret or further compartmentalized information, but the volume of such information remains a problem. The Department of Energy (DOE) has about 200 million pages of secret documents and the Defense Department many more.

We are facing a basic tension: if too much is classified at too high a level, then the bureaucratic burden in guarding all that information becomes excessive. Moreover, in a democratic society the public has a right to know what the government is doing unless there are overriding reasons to bar such knowledge. In the past, classification clearly became excessive. For instance, some information on environment, safety and health relating to nuclear facilities was classified in case it might have contained sensitive material. Many restrictions on information beyond classifications have grown, such as "unclassified nuclear information." Such designations erect moderate barriers and bureaucratic restrictions but do nothing to protect really important information.

The intent of clearance is to minimize the probability that the to-be-cleared individual will at sometime in the future transmit information to those not authorized to receive it. During the Cold War the clearance process understandably focused on the ideology of the individual in respect to communism or sympathy with the Soviet bloc. In addition, the clearance process aims to evaluate whether an individual may be subject to blackmail because of past criminality, drug use, or other liability. While the latter factors are still valid criteria, the question of ideology has lost its specific focus with the end of the Cold War. Rather, as the famous Ames case indicated, old-fashioned greed remains a major factor. It remains extremely difficult to predict who, among the tens of thousands of individuals to be cleared, may in the future succumb to offers of money. Yet the granting of clearance requires that cleared individuals must be trusted; it is impossible and undesirable to isolate them from contact with uncleared persons.

Reviews of this process by the National Academy of Sciences and government agencies have resulted in a clear message: we should build high fences around truly sensitive information but omit restrictions on less sensitive information because they largely have only nuisance value. Yet in the wake of the Cox Report we see a "feeding frenzy" in Congress and within the government to impose all sorts of far-reaching restrictions. Examples include increasing export controls on scientific information, restrictions on visitors from "designated countries" to purely scientific activities within DOE laboratories, and the like. The Cox Committee recommends that the inspectors general of five government agencies be directed "to examine the risks [not the benefits!] to U.S. National Security of international scientific research programs.…" Yet the Cox Report presents no evidence that laboratory visits and scientific exchanges have resulted in any "losses" of classified information. This conclusion is reinforced by a recent review by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB). This is a case of closing the barn door to a stable from which no horse has been stolen.

We also should not vilify China simply for spying on the U.S.—espionage is a fact of international politics. All major nations maintain institutions dedicated to collecting information from other countries, be they adversaries or friends. The U.S. jailed an Israeli spy for life, yet no accusations were levied against Israel for improper conduct. At this time, evidence is insufficient to file charges against, arrest or convict anyone mentioned in the Cox Report for having collected information for China's benefit.

Nations are generally silent regarding their successes in penetrating the secrecy of other nations and the compromise of their own secrets. The Cox Report breaks this pattern by trumpeting alleged losses of secret information from the U.S. even though no official charges have been brought against individuals. Thus, there is no way to judge whether on the global scale of spying the events cited are in any way unusual. The U.S. spends nearly $30 billion annually for support of the intelligence community, including CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the intelligence agencies of the armed services. This is very much larger than the spying effort of any other nation.

Indeed, there are defects in the huge bureaucracy that is charged with protecting highly classified information, and these deficiencies must be addressed. But the remedies restricting scientific and technical communications with the PRC and inhibiting unclassified scientific exchanges will impede scientific progress in the U.S. and, most important, will make it even more difficult to attract capable scientific and technical personnel to the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories. With the termination of nuclear weapons testing and the initiation of the science-based stewardship program, the quality of personnel at the nuclear weapons laboratories remains important to U.S. security.

Overly restrictive remedies will also seriously interfere with important, on-going "laboratory-to-laboratory" programs in which personnel from U.S. weapons laboratories visit their sister establishments in Russia, and to a lesser extent in China, with the goal of helping those countries upgrade their materials, protection, control and accounting activities relating to their nuclear weapons. Improving the safety and security of foreign weapons against theft or diversion, or against inadvertent detonation, are of greater value to the security of the U.S. than the potential impact of Chinese spying alleged in the report.

The Cox Report paints a very misleading picture of the impact of foreign intelligence activities on U.S. security. Some of the remedies proposed in response to the committee's findings are apt to be more damaging to national security than the deficiencies the report addresses.


Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky is director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California.

Cox Panel Charges China With Extensive Nuclear Espionage

Howard Diamond

THE UNITED STATES has been the victim of a sustained Chinese espionage campaign alleged to have acquired classified information on seven types of U.S. thermonuclear weapons, a bipartisan select committee from the House of Representatives reported May 25. Led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the panel of five Republicans and four Democrats released a 900-plus page declassified version of its report charging extensive—and probably ongoing—penetration of U.S. nuclear weapons labs by Chinese agents, indications that U.S. weapons technology may be used in China's strategic modernization plans, and widespread Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. dual-use technology through legal and illegal means.

The Cox Report has been subject to criticism both from members of the select committee and outside experts who have questioned the report's charges and conclusions. Beijing has vigorously denied that it engaged in any nuclear espionage and has argued that ample information on U.S. nuclear weapons is available from open sources. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said on May 27, "We have no policy of stealing from other nations and China has never stolen any nuclear secrets from any country, including America."

Initially created in July 1998 to investigate charges that two U.S. space companies had illicitly provided technical assistance to China's ballistic missile program, the Cox panel's focus on Chinese spying in U.S. weapons labs has heightened the political significance of its report, and may lead to changes in U.S. export controls and restructuring of the Department of Energy's control over U.S. nuclear weapons labs. The Cox panel blamed the Clinton administration for responding too slowly to signs of Chinese spying, failing to disseminate information about the espionage to either Congress or the cabinet secretaries responsible for implenting U.S. export controls, and going too far in liberalizing U.S. export controls in order to help U.S. business interests.

The three-volume Cox Report, which was unanimously approved by the select committee, addresses both legal and illegal Chinese technology acquisition programs, including nuclear espionage, purchases of U.S. high-performance computers and commercial satellites, and efforts to take advantage of gaps in U.S. export controls. Among its 38 recommendations, the Cox panel called for bolstering the Energy Department's security and counterintelligence functions, heightening the national security focus in U.S. licensing decisions for dual-use technologies to China, improving U.S. monitoring of dual-use technologies exported to China, and strengthening the multilateral Wassenaar Arrangement on dual-use exports to more closely match the level of control exercised by its predecessor, the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM).

Much of the public focus on the Cox Report has focused on the question of Chinese nuclear espionage and its effect on U.S. national security. When asked how the Chinese spying described in the report differed from previous instances of espionage, Cox told NBC News on May 21, "No other country has succeeded in stealing so much from the United States. And no other country having stolen such secrets has used it to design weapons that will threaten the United States."

President Clinton thanked the Cox panel for its work on May 25, and said he agreed with "the overwhelming majority" of the report's recommendations. The president insisted that despite Chinese spying, "I strongly believe that our continuing engagement with China has produced benefits for our national security." The Clinton administration received the classified version of the Cox Report on January 2 and published its response to the panel's recommendations on February 2. Aside from pointing out that most of the alleged espionage occurred during previous administrations, the White House has limited its public dissent to the question of whether it responded with sufficient dispatch upon learning of potential Chinese spying.

Addressing reporters May 24, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the administration had moved quickly to deal with the question of spying at the weapons labs but said that despite all the government's investigations, "I can't point to a case where we know something was stolen, we know who did it, and we know where it went to, and we know where it came from." Lockhart said no rebuttal to the Cox Report would be forthcoming. On the question of improving security at the weapons labs, Lockhart said "there were some things in [the Cox Report] that we were already doing, but there are certainly ideas in there of how to shore up security that we have embraced and we're implementing."

With many of the Cox Report's most serious charges directed at his department, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson asserted that well before the Cox panel was even formed, the administration was already tackling the issue of security at U.S. nuclear weapons labs. Referring to Presidential Decision Directive-61 (PDD-61), which was issued in February 1998, Richardson said, "We have taken enormously aggressive action to deal with the problem. We are fixing the problem. I can assure the American people that their nuclear secrets are safe at the labs." Richardson also cautioned against "oversensationalizing" the allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage. "There is no evidence of a 'wholesale' loss of information," Richardson said.

Since the adoption of PDD-61, the Energy Department has adopted a 46-point security improvement plan in November 1998, a seven-point counterintelligence initiative in March, and an additional 10-part security reform package on May 11. In April, Richardson also instituted a two-week shut-down of the classified computer system in the three nuclear weapons labs to implement a new cyber-security program.

How damaging Chinese spying was to U.S. national security remains unclear. The Cox report has been criticized by two of the panel's Democratic members, Representative Norman Dicks (WA) and Representative John Spratt (NC), as being overly dependent on conditional statements and conclusions based on worst-case scenarios. According to Spratt, "there are statements in the report that will not bear scrutiny" and that despite his objections "not all were deleted or revised, and some of the revisions are still inadequate." Dicks added, "I am certain that academics and experts in and out of government will challenge some of our worst-case conclusions."

At the urging of the Cox panel, an assessment of the damage done by Chinese nuclear espionage was made by the U.S. intelligence community, which was subsequently reviewed by an independent panel led by retired Admiral David Jeremiah. Released on April 21, the intelligence community's "damage assessment," which the Jeremiah panel concurred with, concluded that classified information obtained by China "probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons." But the assessment concluded that, so far, Chinese nuclear espionage "has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment." While China had acquired "classified U.S. nuclear weapons information," the intelligence community assessment noted that "we do not know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired."

THE UNITED STATES has been the victim of a sustained Chinese espionage campaign alleged to have acquired classified information on seven types of U.S. thermonuclear weapons, a bipartisan select committee from the House of Representatives reported May 25. Led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the panel of five Republicans and four Democrats released a 900-plus page declassified version of its report charging extensive—and probably ongoing—penetration of U.S. nuclear weapons labs by Chinese agents, indications that U.S. weapons technology may be used in China's strategic modernization plans, and widespread Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. dual-use technology through legal and illegal means. (Continue)

The Cox Report's 'Dirty Little Secret'

Jonathan D. Pollack

Back to Cox Report Main Page

To the uninitiated reader, the Cox Report presents an ominous picture of pervasive, sustained Chinese espionage and illicit technology acquisition breathtaking in its scope, scale and effectiveness. The document alleges extreme laxity in U.S. security procedures and a seriously flawed export control process, both of which were purportedly exploited by China's intelligence organizations and weapons manufacturers. In the committee's view, these actions were knowingly abetted by American scientists prepared to disclose U.S. nuclear weapons secrets and by American aerospace firms intent on securing commercial advantage with China, irrespective of the national security consequences.

Given the substantial excisions in the declassified version of the report, it is impossible to fully assess the potential consequences of China's acquisition of U.S. nuclear weapons design and technical information, however Beijing acquired such data. The report's judgments are sweeping and unequivocal, but the evidence supporting these claims seems far more limited and ambiguous, suggesting that the compromise of information may have been far less extensive than asserted by the report's authors.

But the study's shortcomings extend well beyond its inferences and assertions; they concern its basic premises and assumptions. Despite the document's prodigious bulk and detail, it is remarkably ahistorical. In particular, it is almost totally devoid of reference to the political, military, intelligence, and dual-use technology ties with China assiduously pursued at the highest levels of the U.S. government during the 1970s and 1980s.

Specific espionage claims must be investigated fully, and the acute lapses in security procedures at U.S. weapons laboratories undoubtedly require immediate attention. But instead of telling a larger story, the committee simply accumulates disparate information from an array of sources from which worst-case judgments were then drawn. As a consequence, media coverage focused almost exclusively (and uncritically) on the most sensational allegations, failing to ask how and why the United States and China were drawn into ever-closer dealings with one another.

Amid the report's dire claims and forecasts, a dirty little secret goes entirely unmentioned. From the very onset of the Sino-U.S. relationship in the early 1970s, successive Republican and Democratic administrations believed that the enhancement of Chinese power—as a counterbalance to Soviet power—was in the national security interest of the United States, and persistently sought to advance this goal in the ensuing two decades. This U.S. commitment was repeatedly imparted to senior Chinese officials in both word and deed. The United States was intent on strengthening relations in a host of highly sensitive areas and shaping China's expectations of the United States and its pursuit of U.S. high technology. The Chinese may well have exploited these opportunities by all available means, but they were walking through a door that the U.S. government had long since decided to open.

The U.S. negotiating record with China amply confirms this judgment. From the earliest years of Sino-American relations, senior U.S. officials (including then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger) provided Chinese interlocutors with highly sensitive U.S. intelligence data on Soviet military capabilities and deployments—without the Chinese having ever solicited this information. The Nixon administration sought to coordinate its diplomatic and security actions with China in Vietnam, in South Asia, and in relation to Taiwan, Japan and Korea. Under President Ford, the United States explicitly encouraged major European allies to relax their export policies toward China, including on weapons sales; the Chinese were regularly kept informed of these actions. U.S. policymakers also sought to find the means to permit sales of U.S. computers to China that it would not export to the Soviet Union.

Under the Carter administration, these ties broadened and deepened. The United States provided Chinese officials with regular intelligence briefings; both countries also undertook active intelligence collaboration (in part to monitor Soviet compliance with the SALT accords). Other programs heightened collaboration against Soviet actions in Afghanistan and Vietnamese actions in Cambodia. These activities accelerated further under the Reagan administration, including the provision (with Chinese assistance) of U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to mujaheddin insurgents resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But the Reagan administration's decision to expedite technology transfer to China bears most directly on the report's findings. As the Chinese sought to develop a civilian industrial base where none or little had existed before, technology transfer from the United States was pivotal. Much of this effort involved technologies and know-how with inherent relevance to both civilian and military programs. It included provision of a massive array of technical and design data for assembly of McDonnell-Douglas aircraft in Shanghai, including an MD-82 coproduction agreement signed in 1985—the largest U.S.-Chinese industrial project of the past two decades.

The Cox Report documents Chinese violations of U.S. export control regulations in the purchase and disposition of advanced machine tools from McDonnell-Douglas. But the larger collaborative effort (designed to meet exacting Federal Aviation Administration certification standards for indigenous production of commercial aircraft in China) was comprehensive in its scope. By enhancing a wide array of technical skills and industrial-technology applications required in aircraft manufacture, the project facilitated the skill base of the Chinese aviation industry as a whole, including the military sector.

The report also fails to acknowledge that the Reagan administration initiated foreign military sales (FMS) programs to China, including sales to military end-users, provision of technical know-how to Chinese military research and development, and active collaboration between U.S. defense contractors and Chinese counterparts. By 1987, these programs comprised avionics packages for Chinese combat aircraft, sales of anti-submarine warfare torpedos and gas turbine engines for the Chinese navy (the latter still in use on Chinese destroyers), sales of artillery-locating radar and the upgrading of artillery production capabilities. Other transactions included sales of Blackhawk helicopters and an array of non-lethal military equipment.

Successive U.S. administrations were not oblivious to the multiple implications of U.S. technology transfer to China. The commercial links were undoubtedly important, but the security implications were also inescapable. A more militarily credible China would be better able to counter Soviet power, and it would require the Soviet Union to deploy additional military assets in Asia. It was also assumed that (in return for U.S. technological assistance) the Chinese would exercise political and military restraint in relation to Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

The United States therefore saw China as an asset rather than a threat to U.S. security interests. Senior Chinese leaders acknowledged Chinese industrial and military backwardness to U.S. officials and corporate representatives, and they also made clear the longer-term Chinese intention to emerge as an advanced industrial, technological, scientific and military power. The Chinese repeatedly urged the United States to further relax its export control policies, and likely assumed that the United States would quietly facilitate Chinese efforts to acquire an extensive array of dual-use technologies.

Additional developments throughout the latter half of the 1980s—including purchase of more advanced computers, acquisition of sophisticated machine tools, prospective sales of nuclear reactors, and an explosive growth in the training of Chinese scientists and students in the United States—attested to the consolidation of U.S.-China relations, with an ever-increasing focus on advancing China's technical and industrial capabilities, many with potential relevance to China's military modernization.

In addition, following the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Reagan administration approved launches of U.S. satellites from Chinese rockets. It was hardly a state secret that Chinese launch vehicles (the Long March 3-B and 2-E) were derived from the same family of missiles used to deliver Chinese nuclear weapons, and that the space launch program was overseen by Chinese military personnel. Underwriting the costs of Chinese launches (there have been approximately 30 launches involving U.S. aerospace companies since 1988) undoubtedly enhanced Chinese space capabilities.

In the aftermath of several egregious launch failures in 1995 and 1996, Hughes, Loral and other major aerospace companies reviewed Chinese assessments of these failures, though Chinese aerospace personnel bristled at the implied criticisms of their programs offered by foreign experts. Alleged violations of U.S. export control provisions and security procedures by several of these companies remain under investigation. But U.S. companies had an obvious incentive to encourage the Chinese to pinpoint and remedy design and manufacturing flaws in the launch vehicles, since further catastrophic failures would have jeopardized their collaborative programs. These reviews by U.S. engineers and technical personnel very likely reinforced modifications in launch vehicle designs that the Chinese themselves had begun to consider. So construed, the Chinese benefitted from U.S. technical expertise. But it defies comprehension that it was in anyone's interest to depend on unreliable launch vehicles.

However, the Tiananmen crisis of 1989 had shattered the working consensus between the executive branch and the Congress on closer U.S.-China relations. Equally significant, the collapse of the Soviet Union eroded the strategic assumptions underlying U.S.-Chinese defense collaboration. The Bush administration sought to retain some of these dealings, but changes in U.S. strategy were already underway, including a substantial augmentation of U.S. military sales to Taiwan as the Chinese increasingly pursued weapons purchases from Russia. The Clinton administration, with intermittent success and also some major setbacks, sought to restore a modicum of civility in Sino-U.S. military relations, but it was not prepared to revisit the post-Tiananmen sanctions precluding military sales to China. At the same time, the scope of U.S. defense links with Taiwan continued to grow during the 1990s.

Thus, the Cox Report appears when the strategic divergence between the United States and China has widened, and when the Chinese are increasingly assertive about longer-term modernization goals that are no longer animated by animosities with Moscow. Indeed, Russia and China share common cause in seeking to inhibit, or at least caution, the United States from the unilateral exercise of its military power. One does not need to subscribe to the more conspiratorial Chinese renderings of U.S. strategy to discern the essential Chinese logic: officials in Beijing see the United States as intent on impeding the growth of Chinese national power and the enhancement of its strategic position.

Given the deliberate pace of Chinese weapons development, it is far from certain that Beijing deems a major acceleration of its weapons programs as either feasible or warranted. Indeed, China's enhancement of its strategic weapons capabilities has remained measured and incremental. If the Cox Committee's claims of Chinese possession of a full array of U.S. nuclear weapons information are accurate, it makes little sense that Beijing would have failed to exploit this knowledge. But if the Chinese conclude that the United States views China in essentially malign terms, an enhanced Chinese national defense effort, quite possibly including accelerated modernization of Chinese strategic weapons capabilities, seems very likely.

But the much larger transformation underway in China concerns the country's mushrooming involvement in global commerce, not its military development. Even as many in the United States exhibit increased unease about the implications of the growth of Chinese military power, the scale and scope of U.S.-Chinese commercial and technological interactions has never been greater. Information and technology flows between the two countries have accelerated dramatically over the past decade; as a consequence, the provision of high-end U.S. technologies to China far exceeds the undertakings of the 1980s. Short of a draconian effort to restrict these transactions and to pursue far more binding multilateral export controls, the momentum of these developments will not be slowed significantly, let alone reversed. Moreover, any such effort would very likely prove self-defeating, both politically and commercially.

Indeed, less than three weeks after release of the report, the committee chairman, Representative Christopher Cox, endorsed a major relaxation of constraints on U.S. computer exports to China. By consenting to a fivefold increase in the allowable speed of computers to be licensed for export to China, he acceded to inescapable commercial and technological realities, even as the committee's report had spoken in worrisome tones about the diverse applications such higher-speed computers could permit.

Although the United States still endeavors to fence off (both literally and figuratively) those activities with immediate national security implications, it is increasingly difficult to square this circle. In the final analysis, the dire tone of the Cox Report says far more about the United States than it does about China. Resolving this fundamental ambivalence about the growth of Chinese power may not prove possible, but the effects of an ominously worded document could make the search for a tolerable center of gravity in the Sino-American relationship ever more difficult.


Jonathan D. Pollack is a senior advisor for international policy at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

The Cox Report: Selected Text and Commentaries

On May 25, 1999, the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People's Republic of China issued the declassified version of its report (the Cox Report) on China's acquisition of U.S. technology in a number of sensitive areas, including nuclear weapons, high-performance computers, and missile and space systems. The committee's full report, which was classified Top Secret when it was issued on January 3, 1999 (and which remains classified) was unanimously approved by the panel's five Republicans and four Democrats. (See below.)

The elaborately presented three-volume declassified report, which comprises nearly 900 pages, contains extensive background information, a detailed review of China's acquisition efforts, the principal cases of alleged technology transfer, the committee's assessment of the impact of these transfers, and 38 recommendations for the president and the Congress on how to deal with the situation.

The release of the declassified version has generated a firestorm of criticism, particularly with regard to the report's charges and assessment of Chinese acquisition of U.S. nuclear weapons technology. Although no dissenting opinions were attached to the final report, committee member Representative John M. Spratt, Jr. (D-SC) issued a highly critical statement the day of the declassified report's release.

To provide our readers with a better understanding of the report and reactions to it, this special section of Arms Control Today contains the full text of the nuclear weapons portion of the report's overview and the overview's principal findings with regard to other areas of technology and policy. The section also contains the panel's nuclear weapons-related recommendations, the key unclassified findings of the "U.S. Intelligence Community Damage Assessment on the Implications of China's Acquisition of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Information on the Development of Future Chinese Weapons," and the introductory note from the damage assessment review panel (headed by retired Admiral David Jeremiah) that President Clinton ordered convened.

The section also comprises commentaries from five knowledgeable experts. In addition to Representative Spratt, commentators include Jonathan D. Pollack, senior advisor for international policy at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California; Richard L. Garwin, IBM fellow emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, who has been closely associated with the U.S. nuclear weapons program; Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California; and Kenneth N. Luongo, executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council in Princeton, New Jersey.

Links to the Cox Report Special Section:


  • Cox Report Overview
  • Nuclear Weapons-Related recommendations of the Cox Committee
  • Key Findings of the Intelligence Community Damage Assessment
  • Introductory Note from the Damage Assessment Review Panel
  • Commentary
  • "Keep the Facts of the Cox Report in Perspective," Representative John M. Spratt, Jr.
  • "The Cox Report's 'Dirty Little Secret'," Jonathan D. Pollack
  • "Why China Won't Build U.S. Warheads," Richard L. Garwin
  • "Assessing the Cost vs. Benefit of U.S.-Chinese Scientific Cooperation," Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky
  • "Don't Let Furor From Cox Report Undermine U.S.-Russian Cooperation," Kenneth N. Luongo

    Members of the Cox Committee:

    Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman (R-CA)

    Rep. Norm Dicks, ranking Democrat (D-WA)

    Rep. Porter Goss, vice chairman (R-FL)

    Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-NE)

    Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT)

    Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-SC)

    Rep. Curt Weldon (R-FL)

    Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)

    Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)


    Introductory Note From the Damage Assessment Review Panel

    Back to Cox Report Main Page

    This damage assessment was reviewed by a panel of independent, national security and weapons experts—Admiral David Jeremiah, General Brent Scowcroft, Dr. John Foster, Mr. Richard Kerr, Dr. Roland Herbst, and Mr. Howard Schue—prior to its publication. The panel members reviewed the report, held a question-and-answer session with the team, discussed the report amongst themselves, and concluded that they concurred with the report. The panel then worked with the team to develop a set of unclassified findings, which are completely consistent with the classified Key Findings in the damage assessment.

    The panel would add the following observations:

    • It is important to understand Chinese strategic objectives in assessing their efforts to acquire technical information on US nuclear weapons. The need to preserve their second strike capability, their regional concerns, and their perceptions of future national and regional ballistic defenses have driven collection efforts.

    • The Chinese continue to have major gaps in their weapons program. We should seek to identify Chinese efforts to fill these gaps as indicators of future program direction and to provide insight into counterintelligence issues.

    • The panel feels strongly that there is too little depth across the Intelligence Community's analytic elements and they are too frequently occupied with whatever current crisis takes front stage. The necessity to pull Intelligence Community analysts and linguists off other activities to assess the compromises to US nuclear weapons programs and their value to the Chinese further reinforces the panel's view that the depth of Intelligence Community technical and language expertise has eroded.

    • A separate net assessment should be made of formal and informal US contacts with the Chinese (and Russian) nuclear weapons specialists. The value of these contacts to the US, including to address issues of concern-safety, command and control, and proliferation-should not be lost in our concern about protecting secrets.

    • The panel recognizes that countries have gained access to classified US information on a variety of subjects for decades, through espionage, leaks, or other venues. While such losses were and continue to be unacceptable, our research and development efforts generally kept us technologically ahead of those who sought to emulate weapons systems using our information. However, decreases in research efforts have diminished the protective edge we could have over those using our information, making such losses much more significant in today's world.

    Key Findings of the Intelligence Community Damage Assessment

    Back to Cox Report Main Page

    Chinese strategic nuclear efforts have focused on developing and deploying a survivable long-range missile force that can hold a significant portion of the U.S. and Russian populations at risk in a retaliatory strike. By at least the late 1970s the Chinese launched an ambitious collection program focused on the United States, including its national laboratories, to acquire nuclear weapons technologies. By the 1980s China recognized that its second strike capability might be in jeopardy unless its force became more survivable. This probably prompted the Chinese to heighten their interest in smaller and lighter nuclear weapon systems to permit a mobile force.

    • China obtained by espionage classified U.S. nuclear weapons information that probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons. This collection program allowed China to focus successfully down critical paths and avoid less promising approaches to nuclear weapon designs.

    • China obtained at least basic design information on several modern U.S. nuclear reentry vehicles, including the Trident II (W88).

    • China also obtained information on a variety of U.S. weapon design concepts and weaponization features, including those of the neutron bomb.

    • We cannot determine the full extent of weapon information obtained. For example, we do not know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired.

    • We believe it is more likely that the Chinese used U.S. design information to inform their own program than to replicate U.S. weapon designs.

    China's technical advances have been made on the basis of classified and unclassified information derived from espionage, contact with U.S. and other countries' scientists, conferences and publications, unauthorized media disclosures, declassified U.S. weapons information, and Chinese indigenous development. The relative contribution of each cannot be determined.

    Regardless of the source of the weapons information, it has made an important contribution to the Chinese objective to maintain a second strike capability and provided useful information for future designs.

    Significant deficiencies remain in the Chinese weapons program. The Chinese almost certainly are using aggressive collection efforts to address deficiencies as well as to obtain manufacturing and production capabilities from both nuclear and nonnuclear sources.

    To date, the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.

    China has had the technical capability to develop a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) system for its large, currently deployed ICBM for many years, but has not done so. U.S. information acquired by the Chinese could help the develop a MIRV for a future mobile missile.

    We do not know if U.S. classified nuclear information acquired by the Chinese has been passed to other countries. Having obtained more modern U.S. nuclear technology, the Chinese might be less concerned about sharing their older technology.


    Subscribe to RSS - China