- China's main nuclear weapons
center is using U.S. supercomputers illegally to simulate warhead detonations
without actual underground tests, The Washington Times has learned.
- U.S.-origin high-performance
computers are being used at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics,
the main nuclear weapons facility in Beijing. The facility is viewed by
officials as China's version of Los Alamos National Laboratory, according
to Clinton administration intelligence officials.
- The use of U.S. supercomputers
- with computational speeds of billions of operations per second or faster
- at the nuclear facility was outlined in a report classified "top-secret"
and circulated among senior U.S. national security officials last month,
said the officials who have seen it. They discussed some elements of the
report on the condition of anonymity.
- Disclosure of the use of U.S. computers
to help develop China's nuclear arms comes as the Clinton administration
and Congress are considering new measures to loosen exports of American-made
high-performance computers. An amendment to the
current defense authorization bill President Clinton signed in February
further relaxed export rules on advanced computers, allowing U.S. manufacturers
to begin selling faster systems on Aug. 15.
- Officials did not identify the
U.S. manufacturers of the systems or how they were obtained.
- Supercomputer sales have been restricted
because they are crucial elements for designing and developing nuclear
weapons, missiles and advanced conventional arms, according to defense
- Additionally, the U.S. intelligence
community reported last month that China is expanding a nuclear research
facility at Mianyang. The so-called "Science City" there is working
on both nuclear weapons and civilian energy research, the intelligence
- The reported supercomputer use
at the nuclear facility is the third time China's government has been detected
diverting U.S.-origin computers to defense facilities.
- In 1997, China agreed to return a Silicon
Graphics supercomputer that was illegally diverted through a Hong Kong
front company to a Chinese defense facility.
- A White House National Security
Council spokesman declined to comment, citing a policy of not talking about
- A U.S. intelligence official who was
not familiar with the report said that it has been difficult for U.S. intelligence
agencies to learn whether China is using complete U.S. advanced computers,
or whether they are using a combination of U.S. components and homemade
- According to Clinton administration officials,
the president hopes to dramatically ease export control on high-powered
- An amendment to the current defense
authorization bill sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, would
make it easier for the president to change the export rules by reducing
a congressional notification period from 180 days to 30 days.
- The argument of some officials
who support the changes is that the systems are so widely available that
controlling them is futile.
- Other officials who oppose the decontrol
note that the United States produced the best and fastest supercomputers
and that they should not be exported to countries that could use them against
the United States, like China.
- A Senate national security aide said the
administration "failed completely" to win Chinese government
cooperation in checking on the end use of U.S. computers sold during the
- "That's why the Chinese
know that they can use these computers with impunity," the aide said,
noting that the relaxation of controls "has been a disaster for U.S.
- Stephen Bryen, a Pentagon export-control
official during the Reagan administration, said he predicted in the early
1990s that U.S. supercomputers would be used by China for developing advanced
- "That's been the great worry about
transfers of supercomputers," he said. "That they would be able
to design a new generation of smaller warheads that can fit on smaller
missiles or which can be MIRVed" - multiple, independently targetable
re-entry vehicles, or multiple warheads.
- Mr. Bryen said in an interview
that the United States was able to radically reduce the number of actual
underground nuclear tests needed for developing new warheads, from several
hundred to about five.
- "This is not good news for us
because the Chinese can do a lot of this covertly," he said. "It
will be hard for us to know their capabilities, and we will have a difficult
time understanding the threat."
- The report by the special House
committee that investigated Chinese spying and technology acquisition stated
that there is limited information on China's use of U.S. supercomputers.
However, the report said that the panel "judges that the [People's
Republic of China] has been using high performance computers for nuclear
- The report stated that under relaxed
export rules, China may have purchased as many as 603 high-speed computers
between 1996 and 1998.
- Following the illegal diversion to
defense use of several U.S. supercomputers by Russia and China, Congress
in 1998 passed a law requiring tighter restrictions.
- The law required exporters to notify the
government before selling supercomputers to nations like China and Russia.
- The U.S. computer industry opposed
the requirement and has lobbied instead for further relaxation of controls
as computer computational capabilities increased.
- In July, Mr. Clinton loosened the restrictions
further to allow exports of machines capable of 6.5 billion operations
per second, and in February announced he will allow sales of computers
that carry out 12.5 billion operations per second.
- According to the Wisconsin Project
on Nuclear Arms Control, the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics was
identified in June 1997 as an "entity of concern," a designation
that warned American exporters that the institute was involved in defense
programs. A Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee report
on weapons proliferation stated that China stepped up purchases of U.S.
supercomputers for its nuclear weapons and missile development program
in the late 1990s.
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