- CIA analysts find shocking evidence that
Chinese spies have cracked even the most secret weapons labs
- The news was worse than the CIA had imagined.
Last week, in response to recent reports that China may have stolen nuclear
secrets from Los Alamos and other U.S. weapons labs, President Clinton
ordered a preliminary "damage assessment" to determine just how
much Beijing knows about the American nuclear program. CIA analysts had
already pulled together intelligence data gleaned from U.S. espionage against
China and now began poring through it for clues. It wasn't easy. The material
was rich in detail: it included years' worth of communications intercepts
and revelations from a 1995 Chinese defector who worked on the Chinese
nuclear program and spilled to his U.S. handlers. But most of the data
had been languishing unread in intelligence-agency computers"for years.
Some hadn't even been translated from Chinese.
- NEWSWEEK has learned that when the CIA
showed the material to a team of top nuclear-weapons experts, they "practically
fainted." Chinese scientists routinely used phrases, descriptions
and concepts that came straight out of U.S. weapons labs. "The Chinese
penetration is total," says an official close to the investigation.
"They are deep, deep into the labs' black programs."
- U.S. officials believe that China may
have acquired design information over the last two decades about seven
U.S. nuclear warheads, including the neutron bomb created in the early
1970s. They may also have stolen secrets about U.S. efforts to devise a
nuclear weapon tailored to create an electromagnetic pulse - a man-made
lightning bolt that would short out anything in an enemy nation that uses
- The government's damage-assessment team
is now trying to figure out who could have given the secrets to Beijing.
They do not believe it was a foreign visitor to the labs, or leaks through
U.S. allies - none had access to the closely guarded material. Which leaves
an unsettling possibility: "This was done by American citizens,"
says one source close to the investigation. Yet officials say only a handful
of top insiders at the labs and the Energy Department even knew about some
of the secret programs, which has left the close-knit nuclear community
wondering if a colleague could have done the unthinkable. (Security breaches
aren't the only way China has acquired U.S. nuclear secrets. NEWSWEEK has
learned that Beijing recently got hold of two U.S. cruise missiles that
failed to detonate during last fall's retaliatory attack on terrorist Osama
bin Laden in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence agencies want to know if the
Chinese have attempted to copy the weapon's sophisticated guidance and