TOPICS > Politics

A Nuclear Bombshell?

May 25, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Although copies of the House committee’s 900-page report only became available late this morning, some of the details had been leaked to the media in advance. So even before Chairman Christopher Cox outlined the findings in the report, some of his House colleagues already had reacted.

REP. STEVE CHABOT, (R) Ohio: The Rosenbergs were executed for giving the former Soviet Union secret information which allowed them to advance their atomic weapons program by five years. The Chinese theft of nuclear weapons technology, which has recently occurred under this administration has advanced that threat by a generation.

KWAME HOLMAN: On Sunday, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for Attorney General Janet Reno to resign in light of the Justice Department’s continued refusal to seek a wiretap in the investigation of the Former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee. House Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi suggested others are to blame as well.

REP. ROGER WICKER, (R) Mississippi: Attorney General Janet Reno is being set up to be the scapegoat in this scandal, but there are a lot more questions, which the Clinton administration must answer about who knew and when they knew it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Ohio Democrat James Traficant said National Security Advisor Samuel Berger should be the one to resign.

REP. JAMES TRAFICANT, (D) Ohio: The fact is Sandy Berger was once China’s chief lobbyist in America. The fact is now, there is a hole in our national security so big we could throw Berger and all our secrets all the way to China non-stop.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the Senate side of the capitol, Minority Leader Tom Daschle said any blame aimed at the Clinton administration should be shared by past Republican administrations.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, (D) South Dakota: Well, as all of you know, this matter goes back to 1982. The Reagan administration did nothing. The Bush administration did nothing. What’s all the more amazing to some of us is that members of the Congress, Republican chairs of the Congress, were warn beside this as early as 1996 and also chose to do nothing. This administration is the first to do something.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel said what concerned him most was how this report might affect future U.S.-China relations.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) Nebraska: We probably are at the lowest ebb in our relationship with China since our formal recognition of the two countries 20 years ago. That’s not good news for the world. I think we have to be careful here that we first of all don’t overstate, overplay. We don’t politicize this, we don’t dramatize this in a way that’s unfair, because we have many interests with China. And our relationship with china is going to go well into the next century. Whatever wrongs there were and whatever the facts are, we’ll have to deal with them and deal with them with China directly and honestly and openly.

KWAME HOLMAN: Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who overseas the work at the national laboratories, this afternoon praised the bipartisan work of the committee, but took issue with some of its conclusions.

SECRETARY BILL RICHARDSON: There is no evidence of a wholesale loss of information. The intelligence community has concluded in the damage assessment that classified information obtained by China probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons, but they don’t know whether any weapons design documentation or blueprints were acquired and they can’t determine the full extent of weapons information obtained.

It is also important to note that despite the potential loss, the United States still maintains an overwhelming nuclear weapons superiority, as we have some 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads, whereas china has less than two dozen strategic missiles. The Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.

KWAME HOLMAN: As for the Chinese government, it denies committing espionage at U.S. laboratories. A statement from the Chinese foreign ministry today said, “We think some people in the United States insist on clinging to the Cold War mentality — the goal is to stir up anti-Chinese sentiment by spreading the theory of a China threat.”