NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
NUKE SCIENTIST EXCHANGE PLANNED
Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman is working on a major Obama administration initiative that would renew scientist exchanges between U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and Chinese nuclear facilities.
The idea is aimed at promoting openness and transparency by China’s military about its secret, large-scale buildup of nuclear weapons, according to U.S. officials.
Critics say the plan is similar to an exchange program in the 1990s that sent U.S. nuclear scientists to China and produced one of the worst cases of nuclear espionage. Secrets about every deployed warhead in the U.S. arsenal were compromised, including the W-88 small nuclear warhead deployed on submarine-launched missiles.
“We’ve seen this movie before, and it has a bad ending,” one official said.
Officials familiar with the plan told Inside the Ring that the initiative was discussed during a recent policy committee meeting of senior national security officials at the White House.
The initiative is part of the administration’s arms-control-centered security policies. According to the officials, the administration hopes to coax the reluctant Chinese communist leadership and its military into engaging the United States in strategic nuclear talks, something China so far has refused.
“This is a way to reach out to [the Chinese] with multilateral arms-control programs,” said a second U.S. official familiar with the plan.
The initiative likely will face opposition from Congress.
House Republicans added language to the 2012 Defense Authorization Act that restricts the Pentagon and Energy department from cooperating with Beijing in setting up a nuclear security center in China. The provision, when signed into law, will block funding for the center until the secretary of defense certifies that China has halted nuclear proliferation and that the center will be in line with U.S. interests.
U.S. intelligence has linked China to nuclear arms proliferation in Pakistan and other emerging nuclear states.
The second official said the plan evokes memories of the 1990s case of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Former Energy Department intelligence chief Notra Trulock stated in his 2003 book that Lee, a scientist at Los Alamos’ weapons-designing X Division, provided sensitive nuclear weapons data to China during unreported meetings with nuclear weapons scientists as part of Energy’s exchange programs.
Lee was the U.S. government’s chief suspect in the compromise of W-88 warhead secrets to China.
The FBI, however, mishandled the case against him, and he was never charged with espionage. Instead, he pleaded guilty in September 2001 to a felony charge of mishandling classified information.
Lee denied being a spy and said he was targeted by the FBI because he is Chinese-American.
The FBI has said as recently as last year that it is still investigating the theft of U.S. nuclear secrets by China from the 1990s. But no one has been arrested for the crime since the Lee case.
U.S. counterintelligence in 1998 warned about China’s aggressive intelligence targeting of nuclear scientists. It stated that “rather than send its intelligence officers out to recruit knowledgeable sources at facilities such as the national laboratories, China prefers to exploit over time the natural scientist-to-scientist relationships.”
“Chinese scientists nurture relationships with national laboratory counterparts, issuing invitations for them to travel to laboratories and conferences in China,” the report on foreign spying against laboratories said.
Security officials say renewing the nuclear lab exchange also would reward China for massive cyberattacks against nuclear labs that have been ongoing for decades.
Energy Department spokesman Joshua McConaha said there currently is no nuclear initiative with China.
“There are periodic meetings to review our China activities, which currently cover a number of areas under our peaceful uses and science agreements,” he said, declining to discuss details of the meetings.
Chinese officials repeatedly have rejected U.S. calls for strategic nuclear talks, most recently in January during the visit there by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
A 2008 State Department cable quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry official He Yafei as rejecting U.S. appeals for Chinese nuclear transparency, noting that openness “would eliminate the value of China’s strategic deterrent.”
Meanwhile, Chinese military support for U.S. enemies appears to be growing. According to an Iranian press report from Dec. 4, Chinese Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong said, “China will not hesitate to protect Iran even with a third World War.”
MILITARY ALERT NEAR KOREA
U.S. officials said there are some signs that North Korean and Chinese military forces went to a higher state of alert before and after Monday’s announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death Saturday.
Internet postings by people near the China-North Korea border reported that North Korean forces were placed on a high state of combat readiness Monday.
The reports also said China had placed the nearby Shenyang Military Region on a level-three war footing, based on concerns about instability in Pyongyang.
A third posting said China’s 40th Group Army and the 119th Mechanized Unit in Shenyang and 30th Division of the Chinese air force in Dandong were placed on their highest combat alert status. Military leave also reportedly was canceled for members of the North Sea Fleet amid concerns over border security.
China is believed to have several hundred thousand troops deployed near North Korea based on fears that a breakdown of order in North Korea will produce large-scale refugee flows into northern China. Troops in the border region appeared mobilized, according to Internet postings this week.
One indication that Beijing had advance notice of North Korea’s death announcement: An Internet posting said Chinese troops in the region were placed on a slightly higher standby alert status Sunday, the day after Mr. Kim reportedly died and a day before the official announcement was made.
U.S. forces in South Korea were not placed on higher alert.
INSIDE OCCUPY D.C.
People monitoring the Occupy D.C. movement tell Inside the Ring that the two encampments are fast becoming health hazards. Numerous protesters also recently were sickened with unusual respiratory illnesses.
The major emerging problem for the leftists camped out in tents at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza is rats. The rodents appear to be moving into the area by the hundreds, and their numbers are increasing daily.
The McPherson camp appears be where more radical leftists are based. An observer familiar with the McPherson camp said one distinctive smell coming from the park area is that of methamphetamine being smoked.
Among the flags being flown by some protesters are those from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and al Qaeda.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at email@example.com.
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