Fears New China Nuke
Warheads Could Be Finished
Soon And Pointed At US
By Carl Cameron
U.S. intelligence officials have accelerated yet again their nightmare timetable on stolen nuclear technologies: the Chinese military could be within two and a half years of adding to its arsenal a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the shores of the United States.
Fox News has learned that sources within the intelligence community believe that the Chinese military could by 2002 integrate secrets stolen from U.S. weapons labs into its arsenal, including the information required to construct a W-88 miniaturized nuclear warhead. The latest information contradicts CIA assurances last month that the Chinese were 10 years away from employing any of the stolen technologies. That CIA timetable had allowed politicians on capitol hill to play down the growing scandal which centers around allegations that classified military secrets have been leaking from the United States for more than 15 years.
U.S. military intelligence sources say China's long range Dong Feng-31 missile is currently being armed with miniaturized nuclear warheads alarmingly similar to the American W-88. The Dong Feng has a range of 5,000 miles, meaning it could hit targets in the United States.
Secrets for the W-88 were stolen from U.S. weapons labs like Los Alamos between 1984 and 1997. The W-88 is used by the U.S. on the Trident missile which is mostly launched from submarines. Up to eight warheads can be deployed and aimed at separate targets from a single missile.
Reports suggest the Chinese plan to launch their Dong Feng-31 missiles from trucks, a dramatic improvement in their missile mobility made possible by the miniaturization of warheads.
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Shelby blasted Attorney General Janet Reno Wednesday for turning down an FBI request to search the home and computer of Wen Ho Lee, a suspected Chinese spy.
The Republican senator from Alabama only smiled when asked if she should be fired. "The nation was not well-served," Shelby said. "It's indefensible on the part of the attorney general. She's accountable for what happens."
Reno responded to the assault by calling the refusal of the Justice Department to allow the FBI search of Lee in 1997 a "close call." Reno said a lack of evidence justified the refusal.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Congress should make it clear there are certain times when national security is at issue that such a search of a government computer will not taint evidence.
Meanwhile, Fox News reported that classified intelligence data about a North Korean nuclear reactor may have been ignored by the Clinton administration in 1998.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the administration pushed forward funding for a new, cleaner reactor for North Korea, even though there was evidence that the North Koreans were using the old reactor's plutonium fuel rods for weapons development instead of sending the material to the new facility for energy development.
Sources said there was a fierce debate over withholding funds for the reactor project, but the White House insisted on going ahead anyway, despite the evidence of North Korea's misuse of the fuel rods.
The ongoing claims of mismanagement are beginning to take their toll on an administration with a penchant for scandals, from Whitewater to Democratic fund raising the latest nuclear espionage allegations.
A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken after the Wen Ho Lee scandal had erupted had 58 percent of Americans thinking Clinton should be tougher in his dealings with China. The same poll had 39 percent of Americans calling China the biggest military threat to the United States, double the number of people who thought Russia was our most dangerous military adversary.
Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., said he wasn't sure if Reno goofed or whether she was a victim of a flawed process, but he singled out her agency for failing to take nuclear spying seriously.
"I'm still sort of surprised that we may have been briefed on this prior the president's knowing about it," said Kerrey, noting that Congress has been more aggressive than the White House in unearthing details of spying.
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the two-year delay in searching Lee's computer "a classic case of bureaucratic bungling." Even if such a search jeopardized possible prosecution, it should have been conducted to help prevent additional losses of secrets, he said.
The controversy centers on the ongoing FBI investigation into Wen Ho Lee, who was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory more than a decade after he first raised suspicions for chatting on the telephone with a suspected spy. Energy Department Secretary Bill Richardson, whose agency supervises and pays for the work at Los Alamos and America's two other nuclear labs, recently conceded that classified computerized secrets were copied onto non-secure files.
Richardson ordered structural changes at the Energy Department to try and prevent a recurrence, but opposes legislation to stop scientists from countries such as China from visiting U.S. labs in the future.
Lee denies wrongdoing. China also has denied spying on the United States.