Memo To: Rep. Chris Cox [R-CA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Have You No Shame?
I could not believe my eyes, Chris! How dare you suggest to a national political reporter that Jack Kemp and I have criticized your commission report because we are sympathizers of the Chinese Communist Party? When Jonathan Weisman of The Baltimore Sun told me you had said so when he interviewed you last month about the Prather Report, I actually thought he was kidding. I put it out of my mind, until it occurred to me that I'd never seen what Jonathan had written, and asked him for his report. And there it was, in the lead paragraph: "One side accuses the other of hyping allegations of Chinese espionage to the point of absurdity. The other fires back that its accusers are ignoring the facts out of sympathy for the Chinese Communist Party." And later in the story, he attributes the line to you directly, as he did when he called to interview me and I thought he was kidding. This is shameful stuff, Chris, and I think you owe me and Jack a written apology that I can post here and cite in a letter to the Sun.
When you called me at home two weeks before Kemp released the Prather Report, which I posted here, I told you flat out that you had screwed up by not having a technically competent nuclear scientist with experience in weapons development vet your report. As a longtime admirer of yours -- Do you remember my note, telling you I would support you as Speaker of the House upon the departure of Newt? -- it grieved me to see that you had made such a blunder. But there is no way I could let it pass, given the problems it had created, both in our relations with the PRC and with the management of loose nukes in Russia. I told you on the telephone, without you asking, that I had "a bias toward China," because I could see so many attempts being made by my old Cold War friends to demonize China and create a new adversary and a fresh Cold War. For you to distort my concerns that YOU WERE UNWITTINGLY CONTRIBUTING TO THE TENSIONS WITH BEIJING into a sympathy for the Communist Party was a blow below the belt, Chris.
Did you happen to watch the speeches at the Iowa Straw Poll over the weekend? Did you notice the blood-curdling screams of approval that went up when Gary Bauer promised a new Cold War with China if he is elected President? How much of that is due to the Cox Commission deciding that Beijing has stolen all our best nuclear secrets, when in fact there is not a scrap of evidence that it has stolen any? What price are you willing to pay to cover your blunder, Chris? Just a little Cold War? Maybe a few aircraft carriers patrolling the Taiwan Straits? How about a nuclear exchange? We know that Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is ready to destroy the life of a Chinese-American computer scientist, Wen Ho Lee, and the careers of several Los Alamos scientists, in an attempt to cover his own lying ass. I made it plain to you that we understood how you could make the errors you did, but that the embarrassment would be minimal compared to the embarrassment the Clinton administration deserved. If you had the right stuff, Chris, you would come clean now, before your nose gets any longer, and tell Bill Richardson he does not have to put Wen Ho Lee in the slammer after all. "I trust you read this morning's Washington Post story by Vernon Loeb: "Ex-Official: Bomb Lab Case Lacks Evidence; Suspect's Ethnicity A 'Major
Factor' in China Spy Probe." The former chief of intelligence at Los Alamos has broken his silence and said exactly the same thing at Dr. Prather did in his report. Maybe he is also a Communist sympathizer. Huh?" And did you ever read the Baltimore Sun? As the first cut of history, it doesn't make you look very good as it is. Unless you admit your error, it will be worse. Here it is:
Chinese espionage report dividing key Republicans; Democrats enjoying dispute surrounding study for Jack Kemp
Byline: Jonathan Weisman The Baltimore Sun
Published on Saturday, July 24, 1999
WASHINGTON -- One side accuses the other of hyping allegations of Chinese espionage to the point of absurdity. The other fires back that its accusers are ignoring the facts out of sympathy for the Chinese Communist Party.
If it was just another partisan cat fight, it would go virtually unnoticed. But when conservative gadfly and 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp squares off with GOP Rep. Christopher Cox, the chairman of the House committee on Chinese espionage, the battle gets a little more interesting.
The rift on the right has sent waves of delight through Democratic circles. China is still expected to be a potent campaign issue, especially for conservatives who have seized on the Cox committee's espionage charges as the latest -- and most egregious -- example of what they consider President Clinton's duplicity.
But a well-publicized challenge from other conservatives could defuse the right's new battle cry, "Treason is the Reason."
Little wonder, then, that a study commissioned by Kemp to critique the Cox committee's conclusion has been virtually deep-sixed by the Republican establishment.
William J. Bennett, who with Kemp co-chairs the conservative think-tank Empower America, refused to lend the group's imprimatur to Kemp's report, forcing him to release it on his own letterhead.
Cox and his committee's senior Democrat, Norm Dicks, have disparaged the Kemp report as "little more than a personal book review" that is "laden with uninformed opinion and false assumptions."
Not only did the report's author, physicist James Gordon Prather, have no access to the more detailed, classified version of the Cox committee findings, but neither Prather nor Kemp tried to contact committee aides before releasing their critique, Cox says.
To further discredit Prather's report, and Kemp's patronage, Cox aides are distributing an e-mail from the author conceding that he has not had access to classified weapons information since 1975, when he left Sandia National Laboratories.
"The [committee's] unclassified report states very plainly what the facts are, and Jack chooses not to accept them," Cox fumed about Kemp. "There is a flat-Earth society as well."
Kemp could not be reached for comment, but he and Prather stand by their report. Prather insists they have mortally wounded Cox's widely accepted conclusions that the Chinese have infiltrated the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories, stolen nuclear design secrets and incorporated them into a new generation of deadly weaponry.
'You've been had'
"Cox is wrong," declared Prather, a deputy assistant secretary of the Army for science and technology in the Reagan administration. "Everybody who has looked at his report is coming out and saying, 'You've been had, Chris. Now just admit it.' "
Since the Cox report emerged in May, it has taken a beating. A CIA-commissioned damage assessment led by retired Navy Adm. David Jeremiah strongly implied that the extent of Chinese espionage had been exaggerated, though it did say Chinese spies had undoubtedly obtained classified nuclear weapons information.
A presidential commission chaired by former Republican Sen. Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire also concluded that the damage done by Chinese spies had been overstated.
More recently, a bevy of eminent nuclear scientists has belittled the Cox findings, picking out inaccuracies, such as the statement that the United States has never deployed a neutron bomb, to undermine the report's overall conclusions.
In fact, the United States deployed three versions of the neutron bomb, on the Lance battlefield missile, the Sprint missile interceptor and an 8-inch artillery shell.
Wolfgang Panofsky, a prominent physicist and director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, concluded: "There is little, if anything, alleged, and certainly not proven, in the report that significantly affects U.S. national security."
Writing in the current issue of Arms Control Today, a liberal journal, Panofsky called recently implemented nuclear security measures "a case of closing the barn door to a stable from which no horse has been stolen."
Even one Cox committee member, who had signed off on the report's conclusions, took some serious shots at it in Arms Control Today. Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., a South Carolina Democrat, says the report levels "sweeping" charges that are "hardly accurate."
The committee relied heavily on a few witnesses, without substantiating their testimony with weapons experts or technical reviews, Spratt says.
Spratt does not question that Chinese espionage had obtained classified weapons information or that lab security needed to be tightened. But he said he was compelled to counter the Cox report's most provocative conclusions, such as the assertion that the Chinese had obtained nuclear weapons designs "on par" with the United States -- a charge that he claims is "simply not accurate."
But it is Kemp's report -- and its conservative pedigree -- that has White House aides most relieved.
"I really do think the Cox report has been torn to pieces, with Rudman, Jeremiah, Arms Control Today -- and now this from the far right," said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The backlash over Cox's conclusions has germinated from two sources: scientists who question the military significance of the alleged Chinese security breaches, and business-oriented Republicans worried that anti-Chinese rhetoric will dry up opportunities in the expanding Chinese market.
Both camps converged neatly in the Prather report.
Jude Wanniski, a well-known, pro-China Republican strategist, had grown alarmed about the reports of Chinese espionage even before the Cox report's formal release. Prather, a longtime friend of Wanniski's and Kemp's, feared that a clampdown on foreign scientific exchanges would jeopardize U.S. efforts to keep Russian nuclear weapons scientists gainfully employed so they do not lend their expertise to rogue states such as Iraq or North Korea.
U.S.-Russia cooperative science programs are also aimed at securing vulnerable Russian nuclear weapons and materials.
Wanniski persuaded Kemp to commission Prather to scour the Cox report for flaws. What he came back with was a report that went well beyond previous critiques:
"We can now assert," Prather wrote of the People's Republic of China, "that there is no convincing evidence available that: (a) the PRC ever 'penetrated' any U.S. weapons lab; (b) the PRC ever 'stole' anything from the labs; (c) any U.S. lab scientist ever 'gave' the PRC any 'classified' information'; (d) that the PRC has incorporated any 'secrets' or classified information into their weapons designs."
The report examines the Cox committee's charges through the lens of a scientist, not a security professional, and the results can be striking.
Neutron bomb issue
For instance, a central charge of the Cox report is that Peter Lee, a Taiwanese-born scientist, had given the Chinese secret data on the neutron bomb.
That conclusion came in part because of a visit to China, during which Lee told Chinese weapons scientists how two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium could be loaded into a capsule and superheated by lasers to create a tiny nuclear fusion explosion.
To security experts, such information, which was classified at the time Lee disclosed it but is now public, sounded dangerously like weapons secrets.
To a scientist, it was common knowledge basic to inertial confinement fusion (ICF), a long-running and still unsuccessful scientific effort to use lasers to generate energy.
If ICF's commercial applications are still years away, its application to nuclear weapons is even more remote. U.S. weapons scientists use the process to better understand how a nuclear weapon works more than how to design one.
Spratt called the Lee security breach "esoteric physics that may have little military application."
Moreover, Lee "almost certainly" had nothing to do with weapons design, Prather concluded. Lee had been a laser expert and contract employee of TRW working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, not a nuclear weapons scientist.
"Accusing Peter Lee of stealing the 'secret' of the neutron bomb at the ICF facility where he worked is a bit like accusing the grounds keeper at Wimbledon of stealing the secret of Pete Sampras' serve," Prather wrote.
The reactions to such conclusions have been so harsh that they took Kemp by surprise. Cox all but called Kemp and Wanniski communist sympathizers.
Wanniski says that Kemp "went through an ordeal with Empower America" once he circulated Prather's conclusions.
"The Republicans have interpreted it as an almost unpatriotic questioning of something they just accepted at face value," said Lawrence Hunter, Kemp's chief economist and political adviser.