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Inside the Ring: Space tech to China

A senior Pentagon official told Congress last week that the U.S. government is concerned about the leakage of embargoed U.S. space technology to China.

Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, was asked during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing whether illicit exports of U.S. satellite technology by the French company Thales would boost China’s ambitious space weapons program.

Mr. Schulte was questioned by Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, about a recent letter he and two other lawmakers had written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thales’ sale of satellites to China that contained restricted U.S. space technology. The letter raised concerns about whether such tech transfers would boost the “increasingly aggressive activity in space [by] the People’s Republic of China.”

Mr. Schulte said the State Department is investigating the Thales satellite export case.

“The leakage of sensitive technology to countries like China has, of course, been foremost in our mind as we’ve thought about export control reform,” he said.

China’s long-range missiles were improved during the 1990s after two U.S. companies illicitly shared U.S. space technology with Beijing.

Mr. Schulte said the Obama administration is planning to loosen technology export controls by moving some items on the U.S. Munitions List to the more-easily licensed Commerce Control List, but “only space items that are already widely available.”

“And we are not proposing removing the Tiananmen Square sanctions that would remain in place even with export-control reform, meaning that items still on the Munitions List could not be exported to China,” Mr. Schulte said.

“And, also meaning, that we would not allow the launch of satellites from Chinese launch vehicles.”

The administration is also proposing that, for China, all items moved off the Munitions List would still be subject to restrictive licensing and controls.

“So we are very conscious of China, and we have developed our export-control proposals with China very much in mind,” Mr. Schulte said.

“In fact, we believe that, to the extent that we focus on those technologies that are most sensitive, we can increase the focus of our export-control and enforcement efforts to avoid situations like this in the future.”

Asked why no sanctions have been imposed on Thales for the illicit U.S. satellite technology export to China, Mr. Schulte said, “We are clearly concerned at any leakage of sensitive technology to China and support all enforcement efforts there.”

Thales came under investigation by the State Department several years ago for offering what it advertised as an “ITAR-free” satellite for sale, meaning it did not require U.S. licensing.

Several of the satellites were sold to China, and U.S. investigators found that they contained U.S. satellite technology that was restricted for export to China.

To date, the State Department has not sanctioned Thales for the exports.

AFGHAN FALLOUT

The Pentagon is moving rapidly to try to limit the political fallout from the recent shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier.

Defense analysts say the attack is a severe setback for U.S. and allied counterinsurgency operations in the country that are based in large measure on “soft power” efforts to gain support from the local Afghan population to turn against the Taliban.

The damage grew worse this week when a senior member of the Iran’s parliament called for the withdrawal of all coalition forces from the country.

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About the Author

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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