Clinton gave China ‘false certification’ on nukes

Analyst threatened with firing for assessment opposing tech transfers

Scott L. Wheeler © 2003 News World Communications Inc.

Senior defense-intelligence analysts tell Insight that the Clinton administration falsely certified the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, as a nuclear nonproliferator despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Clinton officials went so far, sources say, as threatening to fire a senior defense analyst unless he changed his analysis, which was based on the overwhelming preponderance of all available intelligence sources that Beijing was proliferating nuclear technology and materials to rogue nations.

This magazine has obtained a copy of an analysis written by Jonathan Fox, arms-control specialist for the Defense Special Weapons Agency, dated Oct. 23, 1997, which states: “This assessment concludes that the proposed arrangement presents real and substantial risk to the common defense and security of both the United States and allied countries.”

According to Pentagon sources, the analysis was ordered to determine whether President Bill Clinton could certify to the U.S. Congress that China was a nonproliferating nation, thus qualifying it for an exchange of nuclear technology with the United States – an agreement that the analysis refers to as “a technology-transfer agreement swaddled in the comforting yet misleading terminology of a confidence-building measure.”

Defense experts tell Insight that there was at the time so large a technology gap between the United States and China that the Chinese had little or nothing to offer the United States in such an exchange. So the agreement amounted to Washington providing a how-to treatise for Beijing’s nuclear-weapons program.

The ordered analysis was to assess the risk to U.S. national security likely to result from such an arrangement with China. And the analysis concluded, “It is further found that the contemplated action can result in a significant increase of the risk of nuclear-weapons-technology proliferation.”

A senior Department of Defense, or DoD, analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells this magazine that since the Clinton administration ignored intelligence warnings and issued the “false certification” of China as a nonproliferating nation, “there has been undeniable evidence of transfers of nuclear technology from the People’s Republic of China to North Korea and Iran.” Both North Korea and Iran are considered by the Bush administration to be rogue nations already in possession of nuclear weapons or on the brink of having them.

And the revelations concerning the Clinton “false certification” come at a time when Democrats are subjecting President George W. Bush to sharp criticism for allegedly manipulating intelligence to support a war against Iraq.

Some details of the incident were revealed in a June 1999 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee investigating whether the Clinton administration had allowed transfers of dual-use technologies to China in exchange for campaign donations from the People’s Liberation Army that were laundered into the Democratic National Committee for Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. Fox told the committee under oath that the order to falsely certify China as a nonproliferator came from his “superior at OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense],” Michael Johnson.

“I completed my analysis recommending the nonapproval of the Chinese technology transfer,” said Fox, who reported that he submitted his report on a Thursday evening and that by Friday morning Johnson had left several messages, finally reaching him at an “Interagency Subcommittee on Nuclear Export Controls, or SNEC.” Fox described Johnson as being “quite upset,” and testified that Johnson told him that the analysis was “not what was being looked for” and threatened him by saying “I would be lucky if I still had my job by the end of the day.”

Fox told the committee that Johnson was under political pressure.

“He indicated that, the matter having been decided far above our pay grade, he wanted me to change my memorandum in order to have it a more appropriate conclusion.” According to Fox’s testimony, Johnson told him the analysis should “reflect that there would be no inimical impact upon national security,” a statement that Fox said would be “false and dishonest.”

Johnson, who at the time of these developments was the deputy director for nonproliferation policy, told Insight when asked to explain his version of events: “I don’t have a good answer,” adding of the Fox analysis, “That may not have been what I was looking for.” Johnson says he does not recall threatening Fox’s job or recall from where the orders might have come to certify the PRC as a nonproliferator.

Another senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was present at key meetings on the subject with Clinton administration officials at the State Department and tells Insight the administration was “creating the analysis to fit the desired result” and “painted the facts in a completely false light.”

Peter Leitner, a senior strategic trade adviser to DoD, was present at the October 1997 meeting of SNEC from which Fox was called to receive the call from Johnson. Leitner testified to the House committee that Fox returned to the meeting “visibly shaken,” told him the substance of the call from Johnson and asked for advice. After conferring with other officials Fox insisted that if the analysis were changed he would not sign it.

Leitner turned over to the House committee a contemporaneous memo he wrote documenting the events leading up to the false certification of China. The memo stated in part, “My DoD colleagues and I were very disturbed by both the crude and threatening manner in which Mr. Fox was being intimidated and coerced into a reversal of his analytical position.” According to the Leitner memo: “The timing of this incident was very interesting as it took place on Friday, October 24, 1997, just days before PRC President Jiang Zemin was to arrive in Washington for his Summit meeting with Clinton. This, undoubtedly, was part of the reason for the intense pressure brought to bear on Mr. Fox for the DoD position to be revised that very day.”

An intelligence official tells Insight that the decisions made by the president are based heavily on analysis by career employees consistent with “the legend” of evidence – information accrued by intelligence professionals who, along with the analysts, “should be prepared to defend the decision.” This intelligence official says the Leitner memo suggests the Clinton administration “cooked” the legend on the China analysis, adding: “The fact that a distorted memo was to play an important role in falsely certifying to Congress that China is not a nuclear proliferator remains a matter which I believe is of the highest importance.”

A Pentagon insider tells Insight that “the certification was the key to obtaining U.S. nuclear technology for which the People’s Liberation Army would have done literally anything, including passing very substantial sums to the president, his political friends and anyone else who might have influenced the deal.” Another senior official says, “Getting off the list of nuclear proliferators was an enormous concession” that allowed China to have the type of technology that contributes to global instability – “technology worth a pretty penny to countries, nations and organizations seeking nuclear weapons”

James Woolsey was director of central intelligence, or DCI, under Clinton from 1994 until 1996. In a 1999 interview Woolsey carefully observed that he was “somewhat surprised” by Clinton’s certification of China as a nonproliferator.

“There is enough leakage of nuclear technology from China that such a certification is on the side of being pro-PRC,” Woolsey warned. He then added: “China has been engaged in proliferation of nuclear technologies for some time.” The former DCI said the alleged Clinton attempts to stop it were “limited to diplomatic démarches” and lacked “any strong pressure.”

The Insight source who was present when the State Department was clearing Communist China to be the beneficiary of a U.S. nuclear-information exchange says, “We are still living with the Chinese threat, and that false certification made not only China, but rogue nations that China does business with, more dangerous to the United States.”

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